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Women’s Basketball Rolls NJIT in First Round of America East Playoffs

By Christian Hince | March 9, 2024

A slow start didn’t keep the second-seeded University at Albany from winning over seventh-seeded New Jersey Institute of Technology 57-42 on Friday to advance to the second round of the America East Playoffs in front of 968 people at the Broadview Center.

Kayla Cooper (#20) attempts a layup in the third quarter against NJIT.

Photo Credit: Christian Hince / The ASP

It was UAlbany’s third victory over the Highlanders this season, and they led by as much as 23. The game’s first 15 minutes were ugly for the Great Danes on offense, with them leading 9-7 heading into the second quarter after shooting 3-13 across the first period, a mark shared by NJIT by that point. This lull continued into the early second where they trailed at their only point in the game, 14-12 with five minutes before halftime.

“We got complacent and you can't let teams come in and win 50-50 plays and dive on loose balls,” Head Coach Colleen Mullen said. “I wanted to make sure I reminded them [that] there's urgency.”

UAlbany led 26-15 by half and never looked back. They shot over 50% across the second and third quarters and finished with a game mark of 43.1% to NJIT’s 33.3%. Their offense and defense complemented each other, with 22 forced turnovers resulting in 23 points. Kayla Cooper shadowed the game’s trajectory, starting the game shooting 1-5 through the first 15 minutes before finishing with a game-leading 14 points on 6-13 from the field.

“I feel like in the beginning I'm kind of sped up a little bit, so I feel like once the game goes on for a little bit, I get a little more comfortable and then I settle down,” Cooper said, a first-team All-America East player for the second year in a row.

Megan Huerter’s nation-leading 3-point shooting played a big part in getting UAlbany’s offense running, going 2-3 from beyond the arc and finishing with a team-second 10 points. The junior transfer from Providence enjoyed her first career postseason victory. “I came [here] to come to a championship level program and that's what we are,” she said. “[It] definitely just motivates all of us every day.”

The first round victory was a nice turnaround after a 63-46 loss to Maine to close out the regular season, costing the Great Danes the first seed in the conference tournament. “It obviously sucks to lose your last game, but I think we all just came together and we just knew that we weren't going to lose,” Cooper said.

NJIT had 15 players on the court Friday compared to the nine on UAlbany’s roster, something which makes the Great Danes’ 25-5 record extra impressive to Highlanders coach Mike Lane.

“When you have Cooper, and [Helene] Haegerstrand, and you get [Sarah] Karpell off the transfer portal, Huerter off the transfer portal – who’s the best shooter in the league and she's coming off the bench – they're a pretty good nine,” he said.

UAlbany has another home game in Monday’s semifinal against the University of Vermont. Despite being seeded third, the Catamounts are the defending America East champions and have won their last four against the Great Danes dating back to last season, including the 2023 conference final and a 67-35 blowout in Burlington, VT last month.

“I think it’s hard to beat a team three times, and we’re gonna have to give Vermont our best game and we know we’re gonna get their best game,” Mullen said. “We know that we really need to be focused and disciplined to do what we need to do to be successful on Monday.”


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