AP Sports Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Shereesha Richards had 26 points, Sarah Royals added 19 points and eight assists, and top-seeded Albany beat second-seeded Stony Brook 70-46 on Monday to win the America East title and earn the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
It was the third straight America East tournament title for Albany (28-4), only the fourth team to accomplish the three-peat. Maine holds the record with four, ending in 1998.
Albany leads the all-time series with Stony Brook 28-22, including nine of the last 10, but the Seawolves (24-8) took the previous game, a 66-56 win at SEFCU Arena on March 1 that snapped Albany’s conference-record 38-game winning streak over two seasons.
In the first game this season between the teams, Albany overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and won 66-51 on the road. Richards and 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig combined for 29 points and 17 rebounds and the Great Danes held the Seawolves to 30.9 percent shooting (17 of 55).
In the rematch just over a week ago, Stony Brook shot 44.9 percent and held Albany, the regular-season champion, to 35.4 percent as the Seawolves relentlessly pounded the ball inside. They outscored the Great Danes 20-6 from the free throw line as Albany’s "twin towers" -- the 6-1 Richards and Craig -- struggled with foul trouble.
Richards, America East player of the year and the first player to lead the conference in scoring (20.1), rebounds (9.
Richards and her teammates weren’t about to let that happen again. She scored 12 points, Tammy Phillip added 10 and Royals nine in a decisive first half as Albany held Sabre Proctor, Stony Brook’s leading scorer, to two points while taking a 16-point lead at the break.
Phillip had 13 points, eight rebounds and five steals for Albany, which did not attempt a 3-pointer. Craig had seven points and six rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
Proctor and Brittany Snow led Stony Brook with 12 points apiece and Jessica Ogunnorin had 10. Senior guard Chikilra Goodman, who averaged 11.9 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds, finished with six points on 3-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds.
Albany held Stony Brook to 13-of-53 shooting (24.5 percent) and had 18 steals against the frazzled Seawolves, who were 1 of 15 on 3-pointers. The Great Danes shot 26 of 48 (54.2 percent) and dominated the paint 44-16.
The Great Danes were pumped in this one from the opening tip, forcing three turnovers in the first three minutes and scoring the game’s first six points.
A steal and fast-break layup by Richards made it 6-0 and forced the Seawolves to use their first timeout.
Not much changed when play resumed as Richards scored six more points, her shot off the glass from underneath staking Albany to a 16-8 lead at 11:54 That was part of a 14-2 run that put the Great Danes in control.
Stony Brook went 7:01 without a basket, missing nine shots against Albany’s swarming defense and getting only a pair of free throws by Ogunnorin as Albany built a double-digit lead. A jumper from the wing by Zakiya Saunders put the Great Danes up 26-12 at 7:08.
A follow by Snow broke the Stony Brook drought, but Albany closed the half with a 10-6 spurt keyed by a steal and fast-break layup that Phillip turned into a three-point play with 4:27 to go.
A driving layup by Royals and a foul line jumper by Phillip just before the buzzer gave Albany a 36-20 halftime lead without any points from Craig, who picked up two early fouls and played only 12 minutes in the first half.
Stony Brook was 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) from the floor, just off its worst first half of the season, and missed all six shots from behind the arc. Albany was 16 for 26 (61.5 percent), nearly its best opening period of the season, and outscored the Seawolves 24-6 in the paint.
The Seawolves never got closer than 12 in the second half and Richards pretty much sealed the triumph with eight straight points, her fast-break layup with 8:44 left giving Albany a 52-37 lead.
The Great Danes defeated No. 8 Binghamton 77-59 and fifth-seeded Hartford 66-51 to reach the final. Stony Brook beat No. 7 UMBC 61-49 and third-seeded New Hampshire 79-59 to stretch its winning streak to nine games.
Stony Brook has never won the America East Conference title.