Shereesha Richards can score, rebound and defend. That’s why she’s been named the America East Conference Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons.
But she’s also patient with a lot of self-control, no matter how challenging her opponents make it with double- and triple-team defensive schemes on every possession.
Although she had a slow start, Richards, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, came on strong in the second half and finished with 28 points, six rebounds and three steals to carry the University at Albany to an 84-75 victory over the short-handed Hartford Hawks in the America East tournament championship game Friday at SEFCU Arena.
The regular-season co-champion, UAlbany (24-8) captured its fourth straight league tournament championship and berth in the NCAA tournament, something senior Sarah Royals calls the Grand Slam.
Although the Hawks (16-17) played without two injured starters — Morgan Lumb and Amber Bepko — who both suffered knee injuries early in the game, they made things interesting by cutting the Great Danes’ advantage to 45-42 with 14:41 to go.
But the Great Danes rode the play of Richards and sophomore Imani Tate to pull away down the stretch, grabbing several 16-point leads before the Hawks made the final score more respectable.
Richards, a junior, also became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,656 career points. Tate finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and freshman Tiana-Jo Carter produced 16 points, while Royals chipped in with eight points, eight assists and two steals. She also scored her 1,000th career point.
“She is pretty relentless,” said Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti of Richards. “You can hold her down, but she never seems to get tired or frustrated. She understands how to be patient. She’s special, and she understands how important she is to her team.”
UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson knew who to turn to when the Great Danes sputtered briefly in the first 20 minutes.
“We turned it up defensively, and I told our players that we better get the ball to No. 25 [Richards],” she said. “She had 28 points and six rebounds with three people on her.”
“I just knew I had to stay focused,” said Richards, who was held to eight points in the first 20 minutes. “I knew I couldn’t let them [the Hawks] get to me, so I blocked it out. I know how to keep my cool.”
The Great Danes set several individual and team marks in their victory. Their 62.5 percent shooting from the floor was the best in tournament championship-game history, as was their 28 assists.
Richards became the sixth player in America East Conference history to win back-to-back tournament most outstandng player awards. She’s the first player since Cindy Blodgett of Maine in 1997 to score 20 or more points in all three tournament games.
“This feeling never gets old,” said Royals, who has four championship rings. “I cry every time.”
“This is my third year in a row, and it’s Sarah’s fourth. I’m looking forward to going back to the NCAA tournament, and maybe this time, we can get a win,” said Richards.”
Abrahamson-Henderson said when the final buzzer sounded she was thinking about seniors Royals and Margarita Rosario.
“They were with me my first year, and they went through the building process,” she said.
“I’m also relieved. This game went on for what seemed like forever.”
Abrahamson-Henderson said she can’t wait for the selection show on Monday to see who her team will play and where they will play. She said the Great Danes will most likely receive a 14 or 15 seed.
Richards, Royals and Tate made the all-tournament team along with Hartford’s Charelle Moore and Deanna Mayza, who each scored 22.
Michals 2-7 0-0 5, Moore 11-19 0-1 22, Mayza 8-12 2-2 22, Lumb 1-2 0-0 3, Bepko 1-3 0-0 3, Skinner 0-0 0-0 0, Hall 1-3 0-0 2, Lee 1-5 7-8 9, Bultron 1-4 0-0 3, Reaves 3-4 0-0 6. Totals: 29-59 9-11 75..
Richards 12-20 4-8 28, Edwards 1-1 2-2 4, Rosario 1-1 0-0 3, Royals 3-6 1-2 8, Tate 9-13 0-0 18, Saunders 1-6 5-6 7, Carter 8-9 0-0 16. Totals: 35-56 12-18 84.
Halftime: UAlbany, 39-29. Three-point goals: Hartford 8-18 (Michals 1-3, Mayza 4-8, Lumb 1-1, Bepko 1-2, Bultron 1-4); UAlbany 2-3 (Rosario 1-1, Royals 1-2). Rebounds: Hartford 25 (Moore 7), UAlbany 32 (Tate 9). Assists: Hartford 19 (Bultron 7) UAlbany 28 (Royals 8, Saunders 8). Total fouls: Hartford 17, UAlbany 17. Officials: Rachelle Jones, Michael Schmidt, Pastor Torres. Attendance: 1,574.
Categories: College Sports