SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Imani Tate and the Albany Great Danes weren’t going to have senior Shereesha Richards’ record-setting career end while sitting on the bench.
And not even an official’s scoring error that provided the Florida Gators an extra point was going to stop them.
Tate scored 28 points and Tiana-Jo Carter’s put back with 8 seconds left helped seal the Albany Great Danes’ 61-59 upset victory over the fifth-seeded Gators in the first-round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon.
In a game that featured numerous twists, the final score wasn’t officially announced until some three hours after the game ended. The NCAA acknowledged a scorer counted a missed free throw as a point, but ruled that the incorrect score will stand because it was not fixed during the game.
Though the score will stand as 61-59, the official box score will reflect the Gators having scored just 58 points.
What can’t be taken away is the 12th-seeded Great Danes (28-4) earning their first tournament win their fifth appearance. Albany overcame a 17-point deficit and played most of the game without their top scorer, Richards, who was in foul trouble. Richards finished with 14 points in just 22 minutes, and fouled out with 6:18 remaining.
”`Rees’ has done so much for us every game that she plays. We just knew that we had to finally do something for her,” guard Erin Coughlin said. ”We had to give her another game in a UAlbany uniform.”
Richards was unhappy over fouling out, but then became enthralled in watching the Great Danes mount their comeback.
”There were a lot of emotions, I’m not going to lie,” Richards said, who was the first off the bench to join the celebration at midcourt. ”I felt like I wasn’t there for my team at the end and I knew they needed me. They stepped up and did a great job.”
Albany overcame a 17-point second-quarter deficit and trailed by as many as 11 points with 7:49 remaining. The Great Danes responded by out-scoring Florida 15-2 down the stretch.
The Gators (22-9) unraveled down the stretch in being outscored 19-7 over the final quarter.
Eleanna Christinaki led Florida with 11 points. Ronnie Williams scored 10 points and seven rebounds.
”Their best player fouls out, the rest of them are going to step up. And that’s what they did,” said Williams. ”We didn’t play our style of play.”
Florida hit just 6 of 30 field-goal attempts in the second half.
”We weren’t us in the second half,” Gators coach Amanda Butler said. ”In these biggest moments, you’ve got to be yourselves. We didn’t do a good job.”
Trailing 57-50, the Great Danes didn’t back down after Richards picked up her fifth foul for hooking the arm of Florida guard Carlie Needles while trying to grab a pass underneath from Tate.
Albany scored the next 11 points on a run capped by Carter’s put back of Zakiya Saunders’ miss.
The Great Danes went ahead for good on Heather Forster’s basket to cap a great three-way passing play with 1:39 left. Tate started it at the top of the key by hitting Carter in the left post. Carter drew a defender and immediately flipped the ball to Forster, who laid it in at the right post.
Christinaki scored with one second left on the clock, but the Gators never got the ball back. Florida hit just one field goal after Haley Lorenzen put the Gators up 57-46 with 7:49 left.
The Gators appeared in full control when they used a 23-2 run to build a 35-18 advantage with 1:14 left in the second quarter.
The run began once Richards went to the bench after picked up her second foul with 50 seconds left in the first quarter. She didn’t return until there was 4:22 left in the second quarter, and Albany down 29-16. The Great Danes looked lost minus Richards, the program’s first Division I All-American and three-time America East player of the year.
It was during the second-quarter run when the Gators earned a bonus point.
Florida’s January Miller was credited with a made free throw to complete a 3-point play with 6:31 left in the second quarter. But she missed the free throw. The scorer gave Florida credit for a make.
Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson told The Associated Press following the game that her coaches raised questions at halftime over whether Florida was given an extra point.
”We were saying it, and then nobody ever listens,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. ”It doesn’t matter, we won.”
Albany: Was 0-4, including a 54-52 loss to Duke last year, in its previous four tournament appearances. … The Great Danes matched a school record for victories, which was set in 20-13-14, when they finished 28-5.
Florida: The Gators got off to a sloppy start, committing five turnovers on their first six possessions. … Making their 15th tournament appearance, the Gators dropped to 9-6 in first-round games.
Albany will face Syracuse or Army in second-round on Sunday.
Florida’s season is over.