By Christian Hince | January 27, 2024
Freshman center Deja Evans returned from a three-game absence Thursday with team-highs in points (15), blocks (6), adding eight rebounds.
Photo Credit: Savanna Stoddart / The ASP
The Great Danes are now solely atop the America East after a 54-47 victory over Maine Thursday, as the visiting Black Bears kept it competitive but couldn’t close the deficit. The night’s keynote performer was one new to the recent rivalry.
“I think Deja Evans is really freaking good,” Black Bears head coach Amy Vachon said.
After missing almost three weeks of action on concussion protocol, the freshman paced the University at Albany in scoring with 15 points on 7-10 shooting and led in blocks with a season-high six, finishing second in rebounds with eight.
On defense she was awarded the task of guarding Adrianna Smith, who last season led the conference in scoring and rebounding en route to winning America East Player of the Year. Smith still double-doubled with 17 points and 11 rebounds, six of them offensive, but shot only 36.3%, falling victim to three of Evans’ blocks.
“I just wanted to be really aggressive this game,” Evans said. “I felt like I had to be.”
UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen believes nights like this indicate bright things for Evans’ future with the program. “Her athleticism is through the roof, her ceiling is through the roof, and she's a great kid,” Mullen said. “She's coachable and her teammates love her and encourage her.”
The young 6-2 center stepped up on a night which saw regular stars take more of a backing role. Kayla Cooper scored 10 points, four of which came from free throws, while collecting six boards. Helene Haegerstrand led rebounders with nine but scored just three, going 0-4 from the field.
UAlbany’s team defense suffocated the Black Bears, as the Great Danes outshot them 44.4% to 28.1%. Leading scorer Anne Simon collected 10 boards but scored just six points with a 3-13 mark from the field. Despite trailing the entirety of the final three quarters, the Black Bears kept it honest, responding to a 35-25 third quarter deficit with a nine-point run heading into the fourth and trailing by three with 22 seconds remaining in the game.
UAlbany point guard Sarah Karpell thinks the Great Danes’ experience in tight situations has made the team more mature. “The last couple of games that we've had against Bryant and Binghamton were close games, and they helped to prepare us to be ready to be in a similar situation against a really good Maine team,” she said.
Karpell was resilient Thursday, overcoming four first half turnovers to post 14 points on 6-12 shooting, a performance which surprised the coach on the opposite bench. “As good as Evans was, Sarah Karpell was the difference in the game to be honest with you,” Vachon said.
Despite the Great Danes’ significant shooting advantage, their stats lagged behind Maine in a number of categories. They were outrebounded 39-36 with a 19-7 deficit in offensive boards, turned the ball over 17 times to Maine’s 11, and were outpaced in bench scoring 9-2.
Maine, who was ranked ahead of UAlbany in the America East preseason poll along with Vermont, is no longer undefeated in league at 5-1 and sits at 12-8 overall. The Great Danes next see the Black Bears in their regular season finale on March 2.
Meanwhile, UAlbany is 7-0 in league and 17-2 overall. They hold a 13-game winning streak which matches that of the 2015-16 Great Danes, the last America East team to win an NCAA Tournament game. Right now though, Mullen is focused on the moment and avoiding a trap game Saturday against her alma mater New Hampshire, which fell to 8-12 Thursday.
“This is a pleasant surprise and I'm enjoying it, but I'm trying to not focus on what's happened so far,” she said. “We've beaten the teams that we’re supposed to be so far and this is another test for us.”