ALBANY — Head coach Will Brown wanted to learn as much as possible about his UAlbany men’s basketball team during its eight November games. Injuries kept the Great Danes from ever using its full complement of players, though, so Brown said after Saturday’s 68-64 win against American that he’ll hold off on making any lasting judgments regarding his group.
“I learned that we’ve got to get better. I learned that we’ve got to get tougher,” Brown said after Saturday’s win at SEFCU Arena. “But I’ve also learned that we’re taking baby steps in the right direction.”
That’s on the court and away from it.
On the court, UAlbany showed plenty of resilience against American in a game that tipped off at 10 a.m., as the Great Danes trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half. The Great Danes pulled even several minutes into the second half before falling behind 62-53 with 8:15 to go. From there, though, UAlbany used one last run — a 15-2 span in which sophomore Malachi de Sousa scored all 10 of his points — to seal its third consecutive win.
Off the court, UAlbany continues to make progress in terms of being able to have its full roster available to play. Redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka (ankle) should return during one of UAlbany’s next two games, while redshirt junior Jojo Anderson (knee) and redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (shoulder) are getting healthier. Lulka started in the frontcourt this season before suffering his injury, while Anderson is expected to play a significant role once he makes his debut for the Great Danes.
“I’m going to start judging this group right around that St. John’s game,” said Brown, who said he is targeting UAlbany’s Dec. 18 game in Queens as when he’ll have all of his players available to play for the first time this season.
Right now, without Anderson and Lulka available, Brown said UAlbany (5-3) cannot succeed playing the style American (2-4) brought to SEFCU Arena for Saturday’s first half. American led UAlbany 41-33 at halftime after an opening 20 minutes that closed with a 17-6 run for the Great Danes.
“It woke us up,” UAlbany sophomore Antonio Rizzuto said of that half-closing run.
At least until UAlbany has its full group, the Great Danes are “not built for 80-point games” and need to win with defense, like UAlbany did with a second half in which it held American to 23 points.
“These are the types of games we have to play and we have to win,” Brown said.
“Our toughness needs to be matched [to], or higher than, the other team if we want to win games,” Rizzuto said.
After struggling early in the season with his shot, Rizzuto scored a season-high 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting against American. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy scored 18 points to lead UAlbany, while senior Ahmad Clark added 11.
Senior Sa’eed Nelson, the Patriot League’s preseason player of the year, had 13 points and seven assists for American, but only made 4 of 16 shots. His last made field goal put American ahead 62-53 with 8:15 to go, but American only made one shot from there as the Great Danes put together their game-ending run.
“Everybody was just looking to be aggressive,” de Sousa said of those final minutes for the Great Danes, who received a blocked shot from de Sousa on American’s final possession.
After de Sousa scored eight consecutive points to start UAlbany’s game-closing run, Clark made three free throws to put the Great Danes ahead 64-62 with 4:14 left. American tied the game on its next possession, but didn’t score again after that. A pair of free throws from Healy with 3:08 to go put UAlbany ahead for good.
UAlbany next plays Wednesday vs. Yale, an Ivy League program Brown called “the best team that will step foot in this gym all year long.”
Yale is another team that UAlbany cannot try to trade baskets with if its want to win a fourth consecutive game. The Great Danes, Brown said, know that.
“It’s going to be a toughness game,” Brown said.
Gasperini 2-5 1-1 5, S. Nelson 4-16 5-8 13, Beckton 2-7 0-0 5, Harris 3-8 0-0 8, Boonyasith 5-10 0-0 14, C. Nelson 1-4 0-0 2, Alexander 1-3 0-0 2, Bragg 1-4 0-0 2, Lubarsky 2-3 0-0 5, Yiljep 4-7 0-1 8. Totals: 25-67 6-10 64.
Hank 1-1 1-2 3, Rizzuto 6-9 0-0 17, Hutcheson 0-4 6-6 6, Clark 3-8 5-6 11, Healy 7-18 2-3 18, de Sousa 4-6 2-4 10, Lauderdale 0-2 1-2 1, Hansen 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 22-49 17-23 68.
Halftime score: American 41, UAlbany 33. Three-point shooting: American 8-26 (S. Nelson 0-3, Beckton 1-4, Harris 2-5, Boonyasith 4-8, C. Nelson 0-2, Bragg 0-2, Lubarsky 1-2), UAlbany 7-17 (Rizzuto 5-7, Hutcheson 0-2, Clark 0-1, Healy 2-7). Rebounds: American 34 (Beckton 7), UAlbany 32 (Hank 6). Assists: American 16 (S. Nelson 7), UAlbany 12 (Hutcheson 4). Turnovers: American 13, UAlbany 13. Total fouls: American 18, UAlbany 11. Attendance: 1,506.