The Capital Region’s Division I college hoops programs are just starting up conference play as 2018 arrives.
But before America East and MAAC play gets into full swing, here are 10 of 2017’s most memorable moments, games and events involving the Siena College and University at Albany men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Wait … what?
The UAlbany men were well on their way to an early-season conference win last January at Stony Brook.
Then, they weren’t.
Up 70-51 with 5:55 to go, UAlbany suffered the head-scratching loss of the year. Stony Brook ended the game on a 21-0 run to secure a 72-70 win.
Later in the season, UAlbany topped Stony Brook in the America East semifinals.
In mid-August, the Siena women became one of the first women’s basketball programs to play in Cuba as part of a preseason trip.
Bowling Green and Louisville played in Cuba in 2016 before the Saints. It was only in 2015 that Cuba and the United States restored full diplomatic relations following a period of more than 50 years, during which the countries had cut off ties.
Before her team left for Cuba, Siena head coach Ali Jaques said her team knew it would be trailed while visiting the island.
“They said that’s just part of life in Cuba,” Jaques said, “that somebody’s watching.”
A program-best start
The UAlbany men won 12 of 15 games to start the 2017-18 season, a program-best effort.
Previously, the Great Danes had never won a dozen games before America East play.
At the moment, UAlbany’s 12 wins are tied for ninth-most in the country.
‘Of course she would hit the shot’
Forget any game-winner or desperation heave.
Erin Tobin made the most memorable shot of 2017 at an area college basketball game.
Tobin, a 2008 Siena graduate and men’s team season-ticket holder, took part in an in-game promotion that went well enough. With a one-armed fling of a shot, Tobin banked one in from half-court as part of a Dunkin’ Donuts promotion during a mid-February game to loud cheers.
“I saw this eruption of people,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said later. “I thought, you know, maybe the president or I thought Governor Cuomo walked in or something.”
After her make, Tobin turned around … and the Dunkin’ Donuts mascot was pulling off that costume, revealing her ready-to-propose boyfriend Steve Duckett. She accepted, sealing the moment with a hug and a kiss on the Siena logo.
“I was jumping up and down after hitting the shot, since my brother said he’d give me $50 if I even hit the rim,” Tobin said. “And then I turn around expecting a gift card from Dunkin’ Donuts and there he was on his knees, and I didn’t have any words.”
Duckett struggled, too, after the shock of Tobin’s shot landing.
“Oh, no!” Duckett said of his initial reaction. “And then I said to myself, ‘Of course she would hit the shot.’”
For the Cup
UAlbany swept the Albany Cup for the second consecutive year.
The men’s game was a classic, with UAlbany scoring a 74-69 win. Siena rallied to take a 65-63 lead with 4:04 to go after a 15-2 run, but the Great Danes answered with a decisive 11-2 stretch. Travis Charles led UAlbany with 19 points.
Meanwhile, the UAlbany women stormed to a 78-63 win. Tiana-Jo Carter led the Great Danes with 18 points and 10 rebounds, as UAlbany collected its eighth consecutive win against Siena.
At the moment, there is no deal between the two schools to continue the cross-town rivalry in 2018.
Down to the wire
Both the Siena and UAlbany men’s teams suffered heartbreaking tournament championship game losses.
First, Siena fell 87-86 in overtime to Iona, with the game ending as Siena’s Marquis Wright swished a long-range 3 with his team down four for the last of his game-high 29 points. The Saints’ loss ended their season.
Days later, UAlbany lost 56-53 in its championship against Vermont. The Great Danes had a nine-point lead in the second half, but couldn’t hold off favored Vermont. UAlbany’s season continued with a CIT appearance.
Another championship, then some laughs
With a gritty, determined effort, the UAlbany women won their best-in-the-nation sixth consecutive conference championship last March.
Days later, they couldn’t hold in their laughter when they found out their first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament would be UConn.
“It’s a little bit excitement and a little bit of nerves,” Carter said of her team’s reaction. “UConn is an amazing team. We are just going to go in and play UAlbany basketball.”
That’s how the Great Danes captured yet another America East title with a 66-50 win against Maine to highlight the first season of the program under the direction of head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee.
The Great Danes’ season ended in their next game with a 116-55 loss to UConn.
‘I was just messing around’
A mid-January game between the Siena men and Rider at Times Union Center turned testy late with an on-court altercation.
Soon, things turned funny.
As Siena wrapped up a 78-68 win, Rider left the court without waiting to shake hands with the Saints.
That didn’t stop Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos, who walked the sideline, anyway, giving out imaginary handshakes to where the right hands of the Rider players and coaches would have been if they had stayed.
Footage of Patsos’ antics ended up on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and NBC’s “Today.”
“It’s a slow Tuesday. I picked Tuesday to do that,” Patsos said of the attention his move had received during an appearance on 104.5 FM The Team. “I was just messing around. I looked up and everybody [from Rider] was gone.”
Emotional and historic
That was David Nichols’ night in early March at SEFCU Arena as part of the America East quarterfinals.
Days after Nichols’ sister, Cecilia Coleman, died after a battle with leukemia, Nichols scored 40 points — a UAlbany record for the Division I era — on the strength of eight 3-pointers. The UAlbany men topped Hartford 100-71.
“It might be as good a performance as I have seen,” UAlbany coach Will Brown said.
The Great Danes wore “CC” on the back of their warmup shirts to honor Nichols’ sister.
“I guess you can say she was on my mind a lot,” Nichols said after the game. “But I was playing for my team.”
‘He was just making everything’
A little more than 17 minutes to go, down 17 points, against a team riding a 17-game winning streak.
That’s what the Siena men faced early in the second half of the MAAC semifinals against top-seeded Monmouth back in March.
Then, Nico Clareth got going.
The sophomore — who missed the team’s prior game with a sprained ankle and played three scoreless minutes in the semifinal’s first half — made one 3-pointer . . . then another . . . and kept going until he’d drained seven 3s in the second half to spark an 89-85 comeback win for the Saints.
In all, Clareth scored 27 points in the second half. After halftime, he made 8 of 10 shots, 7 of 8 3-pointers and 4 of 4 free throws.
“We were trying to get him the ball whenever we could, but he was just on fire,” Siena’s Brett Bisping said. “He was just making everything. It was fun to watch.”
Clareth’s amazing second half came exactly one month after Patsos had asked Clareth to rejoin the team following the guard missing several games because of a leave of absence.
“This is everything right here,” Clareth said. “That’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”