It was another tough loss, one with “too many self-inflicted mistakes” made, for the UAlbany men’s basketball team.
But Saturday’s 67-64 non-conference defeat at Saint Joseph’s came with a silver lining for the Great Danes, and an important one as they head back into America East Conference play next weekend against NJIT.
Redshirt junior Adam Lulka, the big man UAlbany needs to anchor its frontcourt, made an unexpected return from a nose/head injury, and was able to play several minutes after missing nearly all of the team’s last three games.
And, redshirt junior Cameron Healy — a preseason all-conference selection who has missed UAlbany’s last four games with an oblique injury — was able to go through 30 minutes of on-court work prior to the game, building on a 20-minute workout the star guard pushed through Friday.
So was Saturday a tough setback for the Great Danes?
They committed a season-high 17 turnovers, and the combination of those miscues with some questionable shot selection on key possessions didn’t help the Great Danes’ cause.
“In my opinion, it’s a game that we need to close the door on,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said during a postgame teleconference. “We needed to finish that game, and we had opportunities to do so — and we didn’t.”
But Saturday also served as a day that saw the Great Danes move closer to returning to whole, which they need to be to contend in an America East Conference that doesn’t appear to include an overwhelming favorite this season.
“Cam and Adam are both returning, big-time players for this program,” said UAlbany graduate student Jarvis Doles, who had a team-high 13 points against Saint Joseph’s. “I’ve practiced with them enough to know that they both have a huge impact on the team. We need — need — both of them, Cam and Adam.”
Healy opens the game up for others with his shooting and overall scoring ability, while Lulka provides steady play in the paint. UAlbany could have used both players at full strength — Lulka played six minutes in his return — against Saint Joseph’s, an Atlantic 10 Conference squad that UAlbany pushed to the limit before running out of steam at Michael J. Hagan Arena in Philadelphia.
UAlbany used a 14-3 run to move ahead 56-48 with nine minutes to go, but largely struggled from there against a previously winless Saint Joseph’s squad that has played a loaded schedule with games against several top-ranked teams. After building its game-high advantage of eight points, UAlbany (1-5) made 3 of 11 shots and committed four turnovers in the final nine minutes as Saint Joseph’s (1-8) surged into the lead.
UAlbany junior Antonio Rizzuto attempted a 3-point shot at the buzzer, but the potential game-tying shot was off the mark — and UAlbany again suffered a close loss during which it struggled to score. Four of the Great Danes’ five defeats this season have come by five or fewer points, while UAlbany hasn’t scored more than 66 points in a game yet this campaign.
“Our defense has put us in a position to win all these games so far this season,” Brown said. “The next step for us is we have to hit that 70-point marker, and I think once we do, we’ll win some more games.”
Healy and Lulka should help a lot in that regard — especially Healy.
Still, Brown said the Great Danes need to be cautious with Healy, who struggled with an injury during the second half of last season.
“We’ll probably put Cameron through another individual workout [Sunday], as long as our trainer thinks it’s a good idea, said Brown, who said he is “optimistic” that Healy will play next weekend.
Besides Doles, junior CJ Kelly and graduate student Kellon Taylor each had 11 points for UAlbany.
Saint Joseph’s Taylor Funk had a game-high 14 points.