Jacob Iati has become the X-factor for the University at Albany basketball team.
Basically an afterthought for most of the season, the 5-foot-10 junior guard has suddenly morphed into an integral part of the Great Danes’ offense and should play a major role when his 18-13 team takes on the 13-15 New Hampshire Wildcats at 2:15 p.m. in today’s America East Conference tournament quarterfinals at Chase Family Arena.
Iati, who is playing in his final season for the fourth-seeded Great Danes — even though he has one year of eligibility remaining — had a seat toward the end of the bench for virtually the entire campaign until injuries to several starters gave him an opportunity for much more playing time.
He took full advantage. With starters Gerardo Suero (shingles), Logan Aronhalt (knee) and Luke Devlin (bruised kneecap) all out with assorted illnesses or injuries, Iati became an instant starter.
In his first start against Vermont, Iati held Catamounts leading scorer Four McGlynn scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting and added what was then a career-high nine points as the short-handed Danes nearly upset Vermont before losing, 50-47.
In the BracketBusters game against Rider, Iati scored 20 points to help the Danes defeat the Broncs, 70-61. Then, in the regular-season finale at Binghamton, he pumped in 22 points as UAlbany defeated the Bearcats, 74-63.
Over his last three games as a starter, Iati has made 14 of his 28 shots from beyond the arc, surpassing last year’s total of 13 triples.
“We’re definitely hungry right now. We have the talent to make a run,” said Iati, who will become a graduate assistant coach for the Danes next year. “We’re trying to stay focused. The guys are ready. I’m getting a little antsy. I love to play games, and we’ve had a lot of time off [eight days] since our last game.”
Iati said he doesn’t consider himself a star, but he admits his recent status has changed opponents’ scouting reports.
“I’m not overconfident, but I’m poised and ready to play,” he said. “It’s good for us what I’ve been doing because teams have to worry about one more guy now. I just want to contribute as much as I can.”
“He’s stepped up for us,” said junior guard Mike Black. “We always knew he could play. He’s a great shooter, a great leader and a great teammate. We need that tenacity.”
“We’ve done pretty well over the last two weeks, even with all of our injuries,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown, who was recently given a contract extension. “We don’t need ‘G’ [Suero] to carry the load.
“If they pay attention to Iati, it opens up driving lanes for Suero and Black. They might try to see if Iati can beat them, but he can shoot the ball. He’s had back-to-back
20-point games, and the guys love to play with him. They look for him. Hopefully, he can keep making his shots.”
With Iati giving the Danes another outside-shooting option, Suero, a dynamic slasher to the basket, might get more room to maneuver. The 6-4 junior is fifth in the nation in scoring at 21.7 points per game. He is second in the nation in free throws made (201) and third in free throws attempted (241).
In Aronhalt’s absence, Black (13.6 ppg) has also become more of a threat, and Jayson Guerrier, a 6-4 transfer, has also moved into the starting lineup ahead of the injured Devlin. In his first three collegiate starts, Guerrier is averaging 13 points and four rebounds while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.
UAlbany split its regular-season games with New Hampshire, winning, 86-63, at home, but losing at UNH, 69-64.
“Teams usually cut their rotation down at this time of the year, but two-fifths of our starting rotation won’t play or will play just minimal minutes,” said Brown. “But we have no excuses. We’re preparing to win and to stay through the weekend.
“The last time we played UNH, we were in a bad place against them. Devlin and Aronhalt couldn’t play in the second half, and we had just lost two tough games to Stony Brook and Boston University. I think we will be better prepared this time around.”
Suero was named to the all-conference first team, and Black was selected to the second team. Aronhalt was a third-team selection, as well as a member of the all-academic squad.
Fifth-seeded New Hampshire is paced by Alvin Abreu, who
averages 13.8 ppg and has made 49 three-pointers. Brian Benson, a 6-9 senior, contributes 8.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
In other quarterfinal matchups, ninth-seeded Binghamton (2-28), which upset eighth-seeded UMBC in Thursday night’s opening-round game, meets top-seeded Stony Brook (20-8) at 12:05, while seventh-seeded Maine (12-16) faces second-seeded Vermont (20-11) at 6:05. Third seed Boston University (16-15) takes on sixth-seeded tourney host Hartford (8-21) at 8:15.
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Categories: College Sports