Danes have size, but must also handle full-court press

The University at Albany has the size and muscle under the basket, but may be vulnerable to opponent

So far this season, the University at Albany basketball team has been willing to accept a tradeoff.

The Great Danes, featuring one of the biggest lineups in the Amer­ica East Conference, lead the league in rebounding, and are one of its best defensive teams. But with so many tall players in the lineup, ball-handling against the press can be a problem.

UAlbany head coach Will Brown understands the challenge, but he will continue to utilize his team’s size and strength when the Danes host Maine tonight at 7 at SEFCU Arena.

“To tell you the truth, teams should press us,” said Brown with a chuckle. “Right now, Jon Iati is playing on one leg, and Brian Lillis is about the only player who can bring the ball up court. But there aren’t that many teams who have enough depth to press you the whole game long.”

Hartford tried to press the Danes last Saturday night, and it almost worked. The Hawks trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half, and were behind by 17 points four minutes into the second half. But a mixture of full-court and zone presses created all kinds of problems for the Danes, who turned the ball over, time after time. The result was a 14-point Hartford run that cut the Hawks’ deficit to just three late in the game.

A pair of three-pointers by Iati helped UAlbany pull away again, however, and the Danes ended up with a 73-63 victory.

Albany continues to play without freshman point guard Josh Martin, who is out with a knee injury. He is expected back in about a week, but without his ball-handling skills, the Danes have been vulnerable to halfcourt pressure.

Although Albany had some difficulties handling the press, the Danes’ defense rose to the occasion once again against Hartford, which shot just 19 pecent (4-for-21) in the first half.

“Our focus was to stop Hartford’s three-point shooting, and we did a great job of doing that in the first half,” said Brown. “But then they made three quick three-pointers in the second half, and we had to make some adjustments once more. We did have some problems against their press, but we settled down, and made some clutch shots down the stretch.”

Maine, 1-4 in the America East Conference and 5-13 overall, also features a tall lineup. Mark Soc­oby, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, paces the Black Bears in scoring at 13.2 points per game. He has 41 three-pointers, and has registered double figures 10 times this season, including a

career-high 29 points against Quinnipiac.

Junior Bernal, a 6-5 sophomore guard, produces 11.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

In the middle, Maine has 6-10, 310-pound Brian Andre, who averages 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds a contest. The transfer from the Un­iversity of Buffalo is shooting 56.6 percent from the floor, and posted double-doubles against both Prov­idence and Vermont.

Kalmondre Owes, a transfer from Saint Peter’s, is scoring 11.7 ppg off the bench, while 6-6 Philippe Tchekane Bofia, a graduate of Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, averages 6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg.

“Besides us, they are probably the biggest team in the league,” said Brown of the Black Bears. “They have a pair of 6-5 guards, just like we do, although their small forward is about 6-3. They also have very big players up front. They’ve been struggling recently, but they played very well when they knocked off UMBC last week. We need to defend the interior and pound the glass against them to be successful.”

Brown pointed out that the schedule favors the Great Danes down the stretch.

“If we take care of business at home, we should be in good pos­ition,” he said. “Five of our last eight games are at home.”

Albany, which has won its last six games against Maine, is expected to use its usual starting lineup. Lillis, a 6-5 senior swingman, was named the America East Conference

co-player of the week after recording his third consecutive double-double against Hartford. He averages 16 points per game.

The 6-5 Hastings, who scored a career-high 16 against Hartford, teams with Lillis in the backcourt. Up front, the Danes (4-2 in the league, 9-9 overall) have 6-8 senior Brent Wilson and 6-8 junior Brian Connelly, who each average about 10 ppg. Jimmie Covington, a 6-7 jun­ior, starts in the middle, but he gets plenty of help from 6-7 freshman Al Turley and 6-11 sophomore Brett Gifford. Lillis, Connelly and Wilson each average about six rebounds a game. Wilson recently snapped a shooting slump with 17 points and 10 rebounds against Hartford.

Fifth-year senior Iati (8.2 ppg), who recently scored his 1,000th career point, is the first player off the bench. Freshman guard Tim Ambrose, who scored a career-high 24 points against Duke this season, is another scoring threat off the bench.

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