One down. Sixty-six to go.
The first game of the Big Dance served as a fantastic omen for those hoping for a scintillating 2014 NCAA tournament, as Albany and Mount St. Mary's took part in a mesmerizing battle of contrasting styles.
In the end, the Great Danes' slow tempo and interior offense was just enough to overcome the Mountaineers' barrage of three-point shooting, as Will Brown's team booked a spot against Florida with a 71-64 victory.
The NCAA's March Madness Twitter feed celebrated the victory:
DJ Evans led Albany with 22 points, while Peter Hooley added 20. The Great Danes, who got all 71 of their points from their starters, shot a scorching 57.4 percent from the field.
That turned out to be just enough to hold off the Mountaineers, who poured in 12 of their 37 three-point attempts. Freshman sharpshooter Will Miller hit seven treys for 21 points, while Rashad Whack chipped in 16 but just missed a potentially game-tying three in the final seconds.
Here's a look at the shot that decided the scintillating contest:
When the Great Danes jumped out to a 13-0 and then 21-2 lead, the discussion almost predictably turned to their purple-and-gold jerseys, which were questionable at best.
Of course, as ESPN's Eamonn Brennan suggested, perhaps the ugly threads were intentional:
Never doubt the Albany Great Danes, whose uniforms blind opponents into immediate surrender!— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) March 18, 2014
But talk eventually shifted back to the actual play. According to kenpom.com (subscription required), Mount St. Mary's entered the game with the nation's 32nd-fastest tempo and was 17th in America in percentage of shots coming from beyond the three-point line.
As such, many onlookers, including CBS Sports' Seth Davis, weren't ready to rule out a comeback:
Looking bad early for Mt. St. Mary's but remember, they will shoot a ton of threes. When they make a few, the tide can turn quickly.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 18, 2014
Right on cue, the uptempo Mountaineers caught fire. Miller knocked down a trio off threes off the bench to fuel a 21-2 run to tie the game at 23.
It was about as wild of a start to the Big Dance as could possibly be expected, and USA Today's Eric Prisbell put some perspective on the opening roller-coaster of play:
Mount St. Mary's averaging more than a three-point shot a minute here. Sounds like me in pickup hoops. I like their style!— Eric Prisbell (@EricPrisbell) March 18, 2014
By the time we reached the end of a thrilling first half, Albany led, 35-31.
Despite knocking down most of their shots and holding Mount St. Mary's to just 36.7 percent from the field, though, the Great Danes couldn't pull away. The reason? Fourteen turnovers (to just four for Mount St. Mary's), and an inability to limit the Mountaineers' production from deep.
After Sam Prescott drilled a three—Mount St. Mary's 10th make on 31 tries—to make it 60-56 in favor of Albany with just under seven minutes remaining, Davis wondered if the Mountaineers could keep it up down the stretch:
I'll be interested to see if Mt. St. Mary's is free-flowing with those threes in clutch time. A lot harder to make jump shots under pressure— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 19, 2014
Will Miller drained a pair of threes to cut the deficit to one, but after the Mountaineers increased the lead back to three, a Rashad Whack three-pointer with 39 seconds remaining rolled in and out.
CBS Sports' college basketball Twitter feed summed up just how close Whack's shot was to falling through the net:
That ball grew arms and climbed out.— Eye on College BBall (@EyeOnCBB) March 19, 2014
Evans and Rowley knocked down their free throws to seal the win in a high-level game that even had viewers trying to catch their breath.
And those were the No. 16 seeds.
If this game was any indication of what to expect for the next 66 games, buckle up. We're in line for an enthralling tournament.
Next up is the No. 1 seeded Florida Gators. Coach Will Brown is ready for the challenge via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
'We're excited. First win for our University on the NCAA Tournament and what do we get? The Florida Gators.' Albany coach Will Brown— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 19, 2014
The Gators haven't lost a game since Dec. 2 and ranked third in the nation in points allowed at 57.9 during the regular season. Behind studs like Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young, Albany is going to need a miracle to pull off the first ever No. 16 over No. 1 upset.