It ended with a loss, but it was still a “solid weekend” for the UAlbany men’s basketball program.
While the Great Danes fell 74-66 Sunday against Vermont in their second game in as many days at Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, UAlbany headed back to the Capital Region with a valuable split of its series against the Catamounts.
UAlbany junior Antonio Rizzuto said the Great Danes weren’t satisfied after Saturday’s comeback win, but the disappointment they felt after Sunday’s loss was “because we know what we’re capable of doing.”
That, perhaps, wasn’t true when UAlbany headed to Vermont with a 0-3 record. But after a dramatic comeback win Saturday and giving Vermont — the America East Conference preseason favorite — all it could handle Sunday, the Great Danes showed their potential.
After overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit in Saturday’s win, UAlbany — which had lost nine consecutive games against Vermont prior to Saturday — was tied at 39 with Vermont at Sunday’s halftime. Vermont, though, pushed ahead early in the second half with an 8-0 run, causing the Great Danes who were playing without starters Cameron Healy (oblique) and Adam Lulka (nose/head) to need to make up ground for nearly all of the final 20 minutes.
“We came out a little slow,” Rizzuto said of the second half, during which the Great Danes made 10 of 27 shots after making 14 of 26 in the first half.
Rizzuto made the last of his six 3-pointers to bring UAlbany (1-3, 1-4) within 61-58 of Vermont (3-3, 3-3) with less than four minutes to go, but the Great Danes couldn’t get any closer. After Rizzuto’s basket, Vermont senior Justin Mazzulla made a 3-pointer, and the Catamounts maintained at least a two-possession advantage the rest of the game.
“Good bounce-back win,” said Vermont head coach John Becker, whose team has split each of its first three opening series of league play.
The made 3 from Mazzulla demonstrated what didn’t go right Sunday for UAlbany. The Great Danes’ defense focused all weekend on limiting Vermont junior Ryan Davis and senior Stef Smith, and did a good job at that — but the duo’s supporting cast stepped up Sunday. While Davis had 19 points and Smith was held to four, redshirt senior Ben Shungu scored 21 and Mazzulla added 11.
Before making all three of his 3-point attempts Sunday, Mazzulla had made 1 of 7 attempts from downtown this season.
“That’s not his game,” Brown said. “So you have to give him an awful lot of credit for stepping up and taking those shots, and then knocking down those shots.”
Besides Rizzuto’s 21 points, UAlbany received 14 from junior CJ Kelly — who had 27 in Saturday’s win — and 10 from graduate student Chuck Champion.
UAlbany is next scheduled to play Jan. 16-17 against NJIT since its series next weekend against Stony Brook was postponed because the Seawolves are experiencing a pandemic-related pause of in-person team activities. UAlbany could try to schedule a non-conference game or two for that weekend, but Brown said Sunday his top priority is getting his team fully healthy since several players are dealing with injuries.
“I want to see what we have,” Brown said. “So I want to be careful with what we do.”