Danes seek third win over Terriers

The University at Albany has displaced Boston University as a perennial America East power.
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America East women’s tournament bracket

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There was a time that the University at Albany couldn’t defeat perennial America East Conference power Boston University once in a season.

Boy, how things have changed. Now, the Great Danes are trying to top the Terriers three times in one season for the second year in a row.

UAlbany, the two-time defending league champion, squares off against BU in the America East Conference tournament quarterfinals tonight at 8:30 at the Binghamton University Events Center in Vestal.

Boston University won the first eight meetings in the series, but the Great Danes reversed that trend during their two conference championship seasons, and have now won seven straight against the Terriers, including a 70-63 win at Case Gymnasium in January and a 76-64 dec­ision at SEFCU Arena to wrap up the regular season.

“Boston University used to be the best team in this league, and that’s what they were when we first joined the America East Conference,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “I always respected the BU program and its coach, Dennis Wolff.”

That being said, Brown was asked how difficult it would be to defeat the Terriers three times in one season for the second straight year.

“It won’t be easy,” he said. “It’s not like Boston University is down this year. We had to play two very good games to beat them this year. And to make matters worse, they are also one of the hottest teams in the league right now. They’ve won eight of their last 10.”

Brown thinks that Wolff will try a different strategy in this meeting.

“I think the two things they might do a bit differently is to maybe use the full-court press a lot more than they did the last time we played them, and to also use the 1-3-1 zone,” said Brown. “They know what we’ve done well against them, and we know what they’ve done well against us.”

But there is one big difference this time around.

“This one is different because there are seasons and careers on the line. It’s one and done now,” Brown said. “We can’t afford any mistakes. Our senior guys know that this could be their last game.”

In Albany’s last game with the Terriers, rookies Al Turley, a

6-foot-7 freshman center, and Josh Martin, a 6-2 freshman guard, combined for 24 points to spark the third-seeded Great Danes, who are 15-14 overall. The unusual support from the Great Danes’ youngsters was needed, especially since first-team all-league performer Brian Lillis, a 6-5 senior swingman, was in severe foul trouble, and played only 14 minutes the entire game.

In order to win this time, the Danes, who pace the conference in rebounding, will need another big game from Lillis, who earlier this week was selected the America East Conference Fan’s Choice Player of the Year. He is one of only 10 Division I players to lead his team in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounding (6.1 pg) and assists (3.5 pg). He also tops the Danes in steals (1.7 pg) and blocked shots (0.7 pg).

Jerel Hastings (5.0 ppg), a 6-5 junior, usually teams with Lillis in the backcourt, while 6-8 junior forward Brian Connelly (10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg), 6-8 senior forward Brent Wilson (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Turley (2.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg) are the probable starters up front.

Wilson and fifth-year senior guard Jon Iati are each among the Great Danes’ all-time leading scorers. Wilson is 16th with 1,170 points, while Iati, the all-time leader in games played with 127, is 19th on the career scoring list with 1,126. The same duo is also among the career leaders in three-point baskets. Wilson is third with 227, while Iati is fourth with 224.

BU, a solid defensive team with several outstanding perimeter shooters, is paced by 6-2 sophomore guard Corey Lowe, the league’s second-leading scorer at 18.5 ppg. He is 10th nationally in three-pointers (3.79 pg), and is seventh in the league in assists (3.4 pg).

Other top weapons for the five-time league champion Terriers, who were the coaches’ preseason choice to win the league, are 6-5 freshman John Holland (11.5 ppg), the conference’s rookie of the year, 6-9 forward Scott Brittain (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and 6-3 guard Carlos Strong (10.9 ppg, 49 three-pointers).

In other quarterfinals today, top-seeded UMBC (21-8) takes on Stony Brook (7-22) at noon, fifth-seeded Binghamton (14-15) squares off with fourth-seeded Vermont

(15-14) at 2:30 p.m. and seventh-seeded New Hampshire (9-19) plays second-seeded Hartford (16-15) at 6.

Sunday’s semifinals will be held at noon and 2:30. The championship game will be played at the highest remaining seed March 15 at noon, and will be televised by ESPN2.

UMBC, which features the league’s most prolific offense (74.9 ppg), not only has four of the conference’s premier scorers, but also boasts one of the nation’s top playmakers in point guard Jay Greene (7.21 assists, 3.37 assist-to-turnover ratio). The Retrievers put plenty of points on the board with Ray Barbosa (16.8 ppg), Brian Hodges (15.0 ppg), Darryl Proctor (14.7 ppg) and Cavell Johnson (13.3 ppg) leading the way.

Perhaps the most competitive matchup could be the Vermont- Binghamton game. The Cat­amounts have two of the league’s stars in Player of the Year Marqus Blakely, who paces the conference in both scoring (19.4 ppg) and rebounding (11.0 rpg), and junior guard Mike Trimboli (18.0 ppg, 4.59 assists per game). Binghamton, which enjoys a huge homecourt advantage, counters with 6-8 forward Lazar Trifunovic (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and guards Mike Gordon (12.1 ppg) and Richard Forbes (11.7 ppg).

Hartford depends on all-conference guard Joe Zeglinski (16.0 ppg, 94 three-pointers), while New Hampshire needs a big game from Tyrece Gibbs (14.5 ppg) to advance.

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