Two games. Two mind-blowing games. . . .
Three female students in the SEFCU Arena stands wiped away tears as the UAlbany men’s basketball team trudged off the court. Nearby, Jamie Brown, the coach’s wife, sat by herself and wept.
The Hartford Hawk mascot flapped his wings, while Hartford coach John Gallagher told his local radio crew he was confident in his team going into the America East playoffs, even if it was 9-22.
Twenty or so minutes later, Peter Hooley, the senior so eloquent in his five years in Albany, struggled to form words in the post-game press conference Wednesday night.
“I owe a lot to these people,” the Australian said, choking up.
Even coach Will Brown, whose public persona often ranges from drily sarcastic to sardonic, had to keep his emotions in check.
“It’s been a great run,” he said. “I think our guys are pretty shocked and surprised right now.”
Later: “I felt like I let these guys down.”
No, Hartford broke UAlbany down, in a dominating first half en route to a mind-boggling 68-59 upset of the Great Danes in the first round of the AE tournament.
Did that just happen? Really? How?
Did the Danes overlook a bottom-feeding team it had drilled twice in the regular season, including last Saturday? Perhaps. A little. Regardless, Gallagher was unnaturally sure in his team heading into Wednesday.
“We knew we were going to win this game,” said Gallagher, who during the week even texted with fellow Philly guy Frank McCaffery of Iowa. (You know the former Siena coach silently delighted in helping his old nemesis lose.) “It’s just hard beating people back-to-back.”
But it’s even harder to envision what the Hawks did in the first half: Hartford could not miss. Could. Not. Miss. When Pancake Thomas went all Steph Curry and drained a 35-foot 3 as the shot clock expired, you knew the Hawks were for real this night.
“Come on, Albany,” a lone fan yelled in the stunned arena, “this is the worst team in the conference, almost.”
Not this night. And on any given night, well, you know . . .
Hartford shot a tick under 53 percent behind the arc in making nine treys in the first half, while UAlbany shot under 29 percent overall.
Hawks by 17 at the break. And there was your ballgame. And season. And three-year run of the Danes going to the NCAAs. UAlbany (24-8) will not get an NIT bid — Stony Brook won the regular season title — but the Danes will likely play on in one of the third-tier postseason tourneys.
Earlier in the day, the UAlbany women talked about preparing for their America East playoffs, which for them begin Saturday in Binghamton. (The first two rounds are played at a neutral site.) Those Danes (15-1, 24-4) are going for their fifth straight AE title under Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. Maine, which also finished
15-1 in conference, is their only readily apparent obstacle; UAlbany won the tie-breaker and would have the homecourt advantage in the finals.
You think UAlbany was looking ahead to Maine? You think they are now after seeing what happened to the men Wednesday night?
“It’s 0-0. It’s March Madness. Anything can happen,” junior guard Imani Tate said. “We don’t overlook teams. Coach Abe doesn’t allow that.”
Senior Shereesha Richards, the best player in program history and one of the best college players, man or woman, ever to suit up for a school in the region, knows how upsets can happen.
“We just have to focus on us and the first game, which is Vermont,” Richards said. “We can’t overlook anyone, because everyone is gunning for Albany. We have to treat every game as the biggest game of our lives.”
That said, she said experience does come into play. “There is no reason we should be nervous.”
That is the coach’s job.
“I’m a big believer any team can win at any time,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
The UAlbany women should be playing at 4:30 p.m. next Friday against Maine at SEFCU Arena in the America East final with a right to go to the NCAAs on the line. The season and the eye test and analysis back that up.
Just like there was no way Hartford was going to beat the UAlbany men Wednesday.
Look what happened.
And it really happened.
MAAC OPENS WITH TRIP TO SURREAL
As unexpected as that UAlbany loss was, that was not the most stunning game played in Albany in the span of 18 hours.
No, no, no: For the truly bizarre, we take you to the Times Union Center and the first-round MAAC Tournament women’s game between Siena and Rider Thursday morning/afternoon.
“One of the craziest games I’ve had the pleasure to coach,” Siena coach Ali Jaques said afterward.
She was being sarcastic about the pleasure part.
And her team, despite a spate of dumb fouls and ill-timed miscues, won.
The final score — Siena 79, Rider 76 in overtime — does little justice to the wackiness of this game. Consider:
— Siena led by nine after three quarters and 11 with 4:24 left — and should have lost.
— After Siena missed a free throw while up two with a little more than three seconds to play, Rider connected on a long pass to second-team all-MAAC guard Robin Perkins (19 points), who laid it in to tie the score at 59 with .6 seconds.
And she was fouled. But Perkins missed what would have been the game-winning free throw.
Then things got even weirder.
— The Saints led by as much as seven in overtime, but starters kept dropping due to foul trouble. (Siena committed 33 of the 59 fouls called in the game.) When Meghan Donohue fouled out with 15 seconds to play, Jaques had no one left to sub, and the Saints were down to four eligible players — and a two-point lead.
— So Rider played the end of the game on the power play.
We only have four players on the floor, Kollyns Scarbrough, one of the departed five, thought on the bench. Then it hit her: “Omigosh, all of them are freshmen.”
— But thanks to four straight free throws by one of those freshmen, Karolina Severova, the Saints hung on.
When asked to sum up the game, Jaques looked as perplexed as she did physically drained.
“I have no idea. I can’t even process the finish of that game,” she said. “What do you say?”
Say this: In many ways, it was a terrible game.
In all ways, it was a terribly entertaining game.