ALBANY — Will Brown kept it simple.
His UAlbany men’s basketball team has a set goal to try to reach this weekend against NJIT at SEFCU Arena.
“I do think if we can hit 70 [points],” the Great Danes’ head coach said earlier this week, “the wins will take care of themselves.”
Scoring, all season, has been an issue for UAlbany, which finished last during 2019-20 America East Conference play in scoring efficiency, according to kenpom.com. The Great Danes are second-from-last in scoring efficiency this season, and have yet to score more than 66 points in a game during their first six contests.
“Our record is 1-5 right now,” said junior Antonio Rizzuto, who was named the team’s captain this week. “None of us are happy.”
UAlbany (1-3, 1-5) lost its last two games heading into its weekend series with conference newcomer NJIT (3-3, 4-4), a program the Great Danes were 5-0 against when the teams previously met in non-conference action. NJIT has split each of its first three America East series, while UAlbany lost twice against UMBC and split with Vermont. Saturday’s and Sunday’s games between UAlbany and NJIT each start at 5 p.m.
The Great Danes have spent ample practice time in recent weeks trying to encourage more up-tempo play in an effort to up their scoring. More than anything, though, what has been hurting the Great Danes is the absence of redshirt junior Cameron Healy (oblique) who has only appeared in two games this season. UAlbany’s top returning scorer from last season has been making progress throughout the week, and Brown said Healy could play a “limited role” for the Great Danes this weekend.
If Healy plays, his presence will force the NJIT defense to pay attention to him because of his reputation as one of the conference’s top shooters. That should open up the court more for UAlbany on offense, and Brown said the Great Danes need to do a better job of taking advantage of open shooting opportunities created off dribble penetration.
“When we force those rotations, that ball can’t stick,” Brown said. “We’ve got to kick it and we’ve got to be shot ready.”
While UAlbany is 1-5, four of its losses have come in games decided within a two-possession margin. Ahead of this weekend’s games, Brown said he’s confident “from a standpoint that we’re not far off right now.”
A strong weekend could do a lot for the Great Danes’ confidence — and for the team in the America East standings.
“The ball hasn’t bounced our way yet,” Brown said, “and I think we’re due.”
‘ONE OF THOSE DAYS’
As much as Brown wants to see UAlbany finally break through and score 70 points in a game this season, NJIT head coach Brian Kennedy is ready to turn the page on his team’s most-recent offensive showing.
NJIT was averaging 70.9 points per game heading into last Sunday’s game against Maine — and, then, the Highlanders fell 45-41 in a game that saw them make 14 of 56 shots from the field and 1 of 17 attempts from 3-point territory. Kennedy credited Maine for how its defense made his team work, but last Sunday’s game served as one of those frustrating days for a team.
“It’s going to happen,” Kennedy said. “You’re just going to have one of those days where your team just can’t put the ball in the basket.”
Most days, though, NJIT hasn’t struggled to score. NJIT’s offense ranks as the fifth-most efficient in conference play, according to kenpom.com, despite last Sunday’s dreadful showing, and Kennedy’s group has five players averaging at least 8.7 points per game.
Kennedy said one of those players — junior forward Miles Coleman — is “questionable” to play this weekend because of an ankle injury, while Kennedy said senior guard Zach Cooks — a preseason all-conference selection — is over a battle with strep throat that helped to limit his production last weekend.
AT HOME, FINALLY
After playing its first six games on the road, the UAlbany women’s basketball team will play back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday at SEFCU Arena against Maine. Both America East women’s basketball games this weekend at SEFCU Arena start at noon.
UAlbany (1-1, 2-4) was originally supposed to play at NJIT and Maine (5-1, 8-1) was supposed to play Vermont this weekend. Schedule reshuffling occurred Thursday because of COVID-19 disruptions, and changes to the league’s schedule resulted in Maine heading to play the Great Danes.
UAlbany last played on Dec. 22. Head coach Colleen Mullen’s team had to pause in-person team activities because of a positive COVID-19 test result in late December, and the team only restarted practicing last Sunday.
Maine has won the last six meetings between the two teams.