ALBANY — For a weekend, the UAlbany men’s basketball team looked the way head coach Will Brown envisioned it could during this 2020-21 season.
And there remains room for growth.
“We’re only going to get better,” Brown said after Sunday’s 83-71 win against NJIT at SEFCU Arena. “We’ve got some really good pieces.”
UAlbany secured its sweep of America East Conference newcomer NJIT with a second sensational offensive performance in as many days. The Great Danes were shooting 42% from the field and averaging 63.7 points per game heading into its weekend series with NJIT, and UAlbany made 56.1% of its shots in scoring 83 points each game against the Highlanders.
Sunday’s matchup saw the Great Danes make 59.6% of their shots, as they registered 15 assists and 16 fast-break points.
“That’s fun basketball,” UAlbany graduate student Kellon Taylor said, “and if we continue to do that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Prior to the game, members of the UAlbany program took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, with Sunday’s game serving as the third consecutive game at least some Great Danes did that. But after seven players — all of the program’s Black scholarship players — took a knee prior to Saturday’s game, several additional Great Danes took a knee during Sunday’s playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” while multiple UAlbany players — and all of the team’s coaching staff — stood.
UAlbany graduate student Jarvis Doles said after Saturday’s UAlbany win that the Great Danes taking a knee during the national anthem were doing so in response to the deadly riot by supporters of President Donald J. Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Brown said after that game that “every individual in our program — players, coaches — they have the right to do what they want to do, what they’re comfortable with, what they believe in” and that “I’m going to support my players.”
Once Sunday’s action began, UAlbany (3-3, 3-5) didn’t have much trouble securing its sweep of NJIT (3-5, 4-6) to get to .500 in league play. A 6-0 run in the final minute of the first half, including a buzzer-beating 15-footer from graduate student Chuck Champion, sent the Great Danes into the break with a 36-27 lead.
After halftime, UAlbany made 3-pointers on its first three possessions, and the Great Danes led by as many as 15 points in the second half — and never fewer than seven.
“They came out the beginning of the second half, made some shots, built up a lead. We fought back,” said NJIT head coach Brian Kennedy, whose team had split each of its first three conference series. “Proud that the guys continued to fight, but we can’t . . . defend the way we defended in the second half and expect to win ball games.”
Junior Antonio Rizzuto led UAlbany with 19 points, while Doles added 15, and each of junior CJ Kelly and Taylor scored 14. In all, six Great Danes scored at least eight points — and each of those players made at least half of their field-goal attempts.
“Proud of our guys,” Brown said during Sunday’s post-game teleconference. “Two good wins, and now we need to . . . have a good week of practice, and get ready for a very, very good New Hampshire team next weekend.”
Champion and Doles each had seven rebounds, while junior Jamel Horton had seven assists in addition to his nine points. Champion added eight points.
San Antonio Brinson led NJIT with 16 points.
Redshirt junior Cameron Healy again played limited minutes for the Great Danes. Healy missed four games because of an oblique injury, then played 10 minutes in Saturday’s game and seven in Sunday’s contest. Healy scored two points Saturday and was scoreless Sunday, but his returned presence was a positive for a Great Danes program that is counting on the preseason all-conference pick to become one of its top scorers in the upcoming weeks.
“We’ve just got to make the most of our time together moving forward, and I think our guys are doing that,” Brown said. “I still think that our best basketball is definitely ahead of us.”