DJ Evans is charitably listed at 5-foot-9. His coach and teammates tease him that he looks a foot shorter.
Yet, he stood awfully tall for the University at Albany on Tuesday night.
Evans scored 22 points, including two clinching free throws with 12.6 seconds left, to lead the Great Danes to their first NCAA tournament victory, 71-64, over Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four.
Evans, an often overlooked component in UAlbany’s lineup, belied his height with nine rebounds to go with three assists.
“He’s about 4-foot-8, so he’s really impressive,” laughed his running mate at guard, Peter Hooley, who had 20 points. “I don’t think there’s another 4-8 guard who could go in there and get that many boards. He did what he needed to do to get this win.”
It was a signature victory for the America East Conference tournament champs, who had come up empty in three previous trips to the big dance.
“It means a lot,” said an emotional coach Will Brown. “There’s no better feeling. Like I told our kids, we’re going to be in the history books at the University of Albany forever.”
The Great Danes (19-14) advance to meet overall No. 1 seed and top-ranked Florida on Thursday in Orlando. But that was a concern for another day.
It was a wild game of incredible turnarounds, with the Great Danes bolting to leads of 13-0 and 21-2, only to have The Mount (16-17) bounce back with a 21-2 run of its own to pull even.
Hooley hit two free throws with 2:43 remaining to stretch the lead to 65-62. After Julian Norfleet countered with a bucket, Hooley again pounded his way to the basket and lofted a shot over a defender for a 67-64 lead at the two-minute mark.
It stayed that way with the teams missing big shots.
Rashad Whack and Norfleet each missed potential tying threes — Whack’s rolled almost inside the rim and then bounded away.
“When it hit the rim, I thought it was going to go in,” Whack said softly.
Evans was fouled with 12.6 seconds left and hit both shots to increase the lead to five points — and out of reach of another long-range shot.
Evans was most proud of his rebounding.
“They shot a lot of threes and there were a lot of long rebounds,” he said with a grin. “I was just at the right place at the right time.”
Will Miller, a freshman who came off the bench, led The Mount with 21 points, all on threes. But he didn’t get off a shot in the last 3:32 after making back-to-back threes to draw the Mountaineers within a point.
UAlbany had made some racket in the NCAAs before, but had never come out on top. In 2006, the Great Danes led by double figures in the second half, but lost to Connecticut, 72-59. A year later, they held their own before falling Virginia, 84-57. A year ago, as a 15 seed, they battled Duke throughout before coming up short, 73-61.
Mount St. Mary’s was also making its fourth NCAA appearance, although it had won once before — a victory over Coppin State in 2008 in the old format of an opening round leading into the big tournament.
Evans 8-13 5-5 22, Hooley 7-14 5-7 20, S. Rowley 3-4 2-3 8, Johnson 6-8 1-2 13, Puk 3-6 2-2 8, Devlin 0-2 0-0 0, Ennema 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-47 15-19 71.
MOUNT ST. MARY’S (64)
Ashe 0-0 0-0 0, Prescott 6-13 0-0 14, Whack 4-17 6-9 16, Norfleet 3-14 0-1 7, Danaher 2-3 2-2 6, Nwandu 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 7-12 0-0 21, Graves 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-60 8-12 64.
Halftime—UAlbany, 35-31. Three-point goals—UAlbany 2-9 (Evans 1-3, Hooley 1-6), Mount St. Mary’s 12-37 (Miller 7-12, Prescott 2-6, Whack 2-10, Norfleet 1-9). Rebounds—UAlbany 42 (S. Rowley 13), Mount St. Mary’s 23 (Norfleet 5). Assists—UAlbany 12 (Evans, Hooley 3), Mount St. Mary’s 13 (Norfleet 7). Total fouls—UAlbany 13, Mount St. Mary’s 16. Fouled Out—Danaher.