With a victory over preseason favorite Boston University tonight at Case Gymnasium in Boston, the University at Albany can send a message that this year’s America East Conference regular-season championship is a wide-open race.
The two-time defending champion Great Danes (7-9) are tied for third place with Vermont at 2-2 in the league, and the Terriers are 1-2. Hartford is the only unbeaten team in the league at 2-0, while the University of Maryland Baltimore County is next at 3-1. The 11-6 Retrievers are also the only America East Conference club that has a .500 or better overall record.
Parity is the theme in the America East Conference this season, and that’s just fine with the Great Danes, who don’t have the firepower of recent seasons, but are still a formidable team on the boards.
Boston University used to be a perennial league power, and the Terriers appear to be tough again after receiving five first-place votes in the preseason poll.
Head coach Dennis Wolff has a 250-195 career record and is in his 14th season leading the BU program. He has won the conference’s coach of the year award three times and guided the Terriers to consecutive America East Conference championships from 2002 through 2004.
Perimeter play is BU’s strength. Corey Lowe, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, is one of the conference’s top scorers at 18.5 points per game. Twice named the league’s player of the week, he ranks 14th nationally in three-pointers made per game (3.6) and has scored 20 or more points on five occasions, including a career-high best 35 against Yale.
Carlos Strong, a 6-3 guard who produces 13.3 points per game, teams with Lowe to form the third-best scoring combination in the league. He, like his backcourt mate, is a three-point scoring threat, having made 36 of 99.
Scott Brittain, a 6-9 post player, adds 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Brittain was a member of the Canadian Junior National squad at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships.
“We have to make both Lowe and Strong put the ball on the floor and go to the basket We can’t let them shoot the three-pointers against us. In this game, we have to defend the three,” said Albany head coach Will Brown.
UAlbany is coming off a rare loss at home, a 71-57 setback to longtime rival Binghamton University at SEFCU Arena last Saturday. In that game, Binghamton senior Mike Gordon scored a career-high 32 points, including 8-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Great Danes played lackluster defense in that game, allowing the Bearcats to shoot 55.6 percent from the floor, but senior guard Brian Lillis continued to excel in all facets of the game. The 6-5 swingman scored 25 points and added 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
Lillis, last season’s America East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has scored in double figures in 15 of his 16 games. He paces the team in scoring at 15.4 ppg, and is also among the Danes’ top rebounders at 5.4 per game.
“Brian Lillis is very tired right now, and we have to be careful with him,” said Brown. “He’s been our leading scorer and defender, plus, he’s been bringing the ball up for us. He’s been like a man alone on an island, and nobody has been there to help him.”
Brian Connelly, a 6-8 junior forward, is the only other player in double digits for the Danes. He averages 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
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