Rowley's status opens door for Johnson at UAlbany
ALBANY Slowed by an ankle injury, University at Albany junior forward Sam Rowley is questionable for today’s 2 p.m. game with high-scoring Maine at SEFCU Arena.
That mean’s another chance for senior swingman Gary Johnson to increase his scoring production for the Great Danes.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior college transfer from Moreno Valley, Calif., has taken quite a while to get adjusted to Division I basketball. As a junior, he didn’t get regular playing time until late in the season. He earned a starting role as a senior, but he hasn’t been a consistent scorer until the second half of the season.
Johnson has scored in double figures in nine straight games, including a career-high 28 points against Binghamton on Jan. 20, and he has improved his scoring average to 10.9 points per game.
That scoring production has been much needed, especially with recent injuries to Rowley, who battled a wrist injury even before his ankle problems, and to leading scorer Peter Hooley.
“It definitely feels good to be playing more of a role with this team,” said Johnson. “But the most important thing for me is that I’ll do anything I can to help this team win. If they need me to play more defense, I will do that. If they need me to do some more scoring, I will do that, too.”
Although Johnson has an assortment of shots in his offensive arsenal, his strength is driving to the basket for layups or acrobatic dunk shots that get the fans out of their seats.
“The biggest difference between me last year and this year is that I’m more aggressive at getting to the rim this year,” Johnson said. “I know my role is to get into the paint.”
Johnson admitted that it took him longer than he expected to figure out the major college game.
“Coming here as a junior college guy was a big adjustment for me,” he said. “It took a while to fit in and understand my role. I’m very comfortable now. I know what coach [Will] Brown expects of me. He lets me do my thing now, as far as taking the ball hard to the basket. With the new rules this year, I’m very careful about not getting offensive fouls, if I can help it. I think I can help my team when I go aggressively to the rim.”
The Great Danes have struggled on the road in conference play. They are just 1-5, including back-to-back losses at Hartford and UMBC, respectively.
“Losing games on the road has been tough for us,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been doing the little details, like making our free throws and boxing out on rebounds.”
The Great Danes (6-6 America East Conference, 12-13 overall) have one more home game after today, and they also have two more road games before hosting the America East Conference tournament for the second straight year, beginning March 7.
“This is a frustrated group,” admitted Brown. “We’ve won games at home, but we’ve lost them on the road. We haven’t had enough to finish off our games on the road. I think our guys are anxious to get a win. You can’t hope to win; you’ve got to know that you’re doing to win. That’s the difference between our games at home and on the road. We can’t seem to find a way to win the close games on the road in league play.”
Hooley continues to lead the Great Danes in scoring (14.8 ppg), while Rowley (11.4 ppg) and DJ Evans (10.8 ppg) also average in twin figures.
Maine (3-9, 5-19) is led by Xavier Pollard (15.0 ppg) and Zarko Valijarevic (11.5 ppg).
The UAlbany coaching staff will be wearing sweatsuits today in support of the Coaches Cure Cystic Fibrosis day. Fans attending the game will have the opportunity to participate in a number of contests, with the proceeds benefitting Cystic Fibrosis. SEFCU will match the winnings with a donation to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.