Danes’ rookies have turned into game-changers

University at Albany head women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson knows talent when she

University at Albany head women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson knows talent when she sees it.

Freshmen Sarah Royals and Megan Craig, her first two recruits after taking over the program two years ago, proved that fact in Friday night’s 74-61 victory over Vermont in the America East Conference tournament quarterfinals at Chase Family Arena.

Now, the Great Danes’ mix of youth and experience will need to figure out how to avoid an upset when they take on sixth-seeded Binghamton (13-17) in the tourn­ament semifinals today at 1:30.

Depth has been one of the strengths for the 21-9 Great Danes all season, and the fact that two youngsters rose to the occasion against Vermont Friday night didn’t surprise Abrahamson-Henderson one bit.

“Our freshmen took over the game,” she said.

Craig, who at 6-foot-8 is the tallest player in UAlbany women’s program history, has been slowly maturing into a dominating force in the paint. The native of Whangarei, New Zealand, has been seeing spot duty all year until the last few games. In fact, Craig had her finest game in the regular-season finale against Binghamton, when she scored 19 points and blocked two shots in 19 minutes. She converted nine of 11 shots from the floor in that game.

Friday against Vermont, Craig played 16 minutes, and she made all of them count. The Great Danes took control with Craig in the lineup. She scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a pair of shots while clogging up the lane.

“I always said she would be a game-changer,” said Abrahamson-Henderson of the mild-mannered Craig “She is so special in so many ways, not just because she’s tall. It’s hard to be a woman when you are that tall. I’m 6-3 or 6-4 myself. Megan is so amazing. She is so far away from home, and none of her family ever gets to see her play. She is a gentile giant.”

Royals also proved to be a giant for the Great Danes on Friday night. The Torrington, Conn., native scored a career-high 21 points, was 14-for-18 from the free-throw line, made seven steals and added six rebounds and four assists. She also excelled in the clutch, making nine of her free throws in the final two minutes.

“Sarah is tough, rugged and a hard worker,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “She is a fierce competitor who wanted to play well before her family and friends.”

But to defeat Binghamton, the Great Danes most likely will need more support from their veterans. Although junior forward Julie Forster, the conference’s top rebounder for the third straight season, scored 13 points to go along with 18 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals, UAlbany’s top two scorers, Ebone Henry and Cassandra Callaway, combined for only nine points on 3-for-20 shooting from the floor against the Catamounts. Henry, an all-league first-team all-star, was named the conference’s defensive player of the year for the second straight season.

“Ebone is a winner, and that’s all she cares about,” said Abraham­son-Henderson. ”I think Ebone is relieved that she doesn’t have to do it all herself.”

UAlbany swept the season series with Binghamton. The Great Danes slipped past the Bearcats, 37-36, in Vestal and then crushed them at SEFCU Arena, 69-37, behind Craig’s dominating effort on Feb. 22.

The experienced Bearcats pulled a big upset on Friday night, how­ever, knocking off tourney hosts and third-seeded Hartford 48-45, behind Orla Reilly’s career-high 21 points. Binghamton features four seniors in its lineup, led by Andrea Holmes (14.4 ppg), O’Reilly (12.0 ppg) and Viive Rebane (10.4 ppg).

With Craig on the floor, the Danes will have a huge advantage in size. The tallest Binghamton starters are O’Reilly and Rebane, who are both 6-foot-1, and the tallest player on the roster, 6-3 soph­omore Julia Barac, only averages five minutes per game.

Categories: College Sports

Leave a Reply