ALBANY — They had two shot attempts in the final 20 seconds that could’ve put them ahead, the second one coming right at the buzzer for the Great Danes.
Both shots — one from junior CJ Kelly and the other from junior Antonio Rizzuto — missed their mark, leaving the UAlbany men’s basketball team on the wrong side Saturday of a 65-64 victory for visiting UMBC.
That didn’t thrill UAlbany head coach Will Brown, for sure.
But he left Saturday’s game a “really proud” coach, one who even after a tough loss didn’t let that cloud his perspective on what the Great Danes were able to accomplish in their much-delayed season-opening game.
“I think our guys need to be patted on the back for that,” Brown said of his team’s effort during a post-game teleconference with reporters. “I really do.”
UAlbany dealt with several pandemic-related pauses of in-person team activities since the Great Danes returned to campus in August, and that came after the team wasn’t able to work together in the spring or summer. UAlbany’s stop-and-start preseason finally truly closed Saturday with its one-point loss against a talented UMBC team playing its sixth game of the season, and that matchup at a fan-less SEFCU Arena was played 24 days after NCAA Division I basketball teams were allowed to start playing games.
After waiting so long to play, UAlbany ended its first game with what UMBC head coach Ryan Odom termed a “furious, crazy” ending. UAlbany (0-1, 0-1) led 36-32 at halftime, but UMBC (1-0, 5-1) surged to a 57-49 lead a little more than midway through the second half. From there, the Great Danes answered with a 6-0 run, and the teams were never separated by more than a two-possession gap the rest of the way.
UAlbany redshirt junior Adam Lulka’s basket brought the Great Danes within one point with a minute to play, but neither team scored in that final minute. Following a UMBC turnover, Kelly missed his close-range attempt with less than 20 seconds to play. UAlbany had to foul, but UMBC junior L.J. Owens missed the front end of his 1-and-1 free throws to give the Great Danes another shot at securing a 1-0 start.
After UAlbany secured the rebound from Owens’ miss, redshirt junior Cameron Healy advanced the ball. He found a curling Rizzuto for a shot from a few feet beyond the 3-point line, but the shot didn’t fall.
Brown described Rizzuto’s attempt as a “decent look,” while Rizzuto characterized it as a “forced shot, for sure, and it was a little deep.”
“I felt like it was going in,” said Rizzuto, who led UAlbany in scoring with 14 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
UAlbany started redshirt senior Jojo Anderson, Healy, Kelly, Lulka and graduate student Kellon Taylor. But with his team playing its first game and with a rematch coming up at 2 p.m. Sunday against UMBC, Brown used 12 players and closely monitored the Great Danes’ minutes to make sure he didn’t overtax any of them.
“Heading into the game, I didn’t think anyone in our program was going to be in midseason form or able to play 30-plus minutes,” Brown said.
Healy had 13 points and Kelly added 10. For UMBC, senior Brandon Horvath led the way with 18 points and seven rebounds.
After finishing its series with UMBC, UAlbany will play Niagara on Tuesday in a non-conference game. The Great Danes want to head into that game not looking for their first win.
“We’ve got to come out with a split,” Brown said of his team’s opening conference series.
Spasojevic 0-1 1-2 1, Horvath 7-13 3-7 18, Owens 2-7 0-1 5, Eytle-Rock 5-6 3-4 14, Rogers 5-9 0-0 14, Akin 1-7 3-4 5, Picarelli 0-1 0-0 0, Kennedy 2-5 0-0 4, Boonyasith 1-4 1-2 4. Totals: 23-53 11-20 65.
Lulka 3-5 0-0 6, Taylor 4-9 1-2 9, Kelly 3-9 3-4 10, Healy 4-11 4-5 13 Anderson 0-3 2-2 2, Doles 0-1 0-0 0, Hank 0-0 0-0 0, Horton 3-5 0-0 6, Hutcheson 0-2 0-0 0, Shafer 2-7 0-0 4, Rizzuto 5-9 0-0 14, Champion 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 24-62 10-13 64.
Halftime score: UAlbany 36, UMBC 32. Three-point shooting: UMBC 8-21 (Owens 1-4, Eytle-Rock 1-1, Horvath 1-3, Rogers 4-7, Kennedy 0-1, Picarelli 0-1, Boonyasith 1-4), UAlbany 6-19 (Healy 1-5, Kelly 1-2, Anderson 0-2, Rizzuto 4-7, Shafer 0-2, Doles 0-1). Rebounds: UMBC 39 (Akin 9), UAlbany 28 (Taylor 6). Assists: UMBC 13 (Eytle-Rock 6), UAlbany 14 (Anderson 5). Turnovers: UMBC 15, UAlbany 9. Total fouls: UMBC 18, UAlbany 18. Technical fouls: None. Fouled out: None. Attendance: 0.