The UAlbany men’s basketball team already ahead five points early in Sunday’s first half, junior captain Antonio Rizzuto was fouled as he made a basket. He missed the free throw, but hustled to secure the offensive rebound and tossed in another two points. An energetic defensive possession followed, resulting in a New Hampshire miss, and the Great Danes used their ensuing possession to work the ball to Rizzuto for a successful 3-point try.
Just like that, the Great Danes had opened up a dozen-point lead, and breezed from there to an 83-64 America East Conference win Sunday at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, New Hampshire. A day after UAlbany head coach Will Brown said his team looked “lethargic” well into the second half of its defeat, the Great Danes looked like a motivated group as they surged to a 45-26 halftime lead and led by as many as 26 points in the second half.
Brown said his team was “really disappointed” with the way it played in Saturday’s first matchup with New Hampshire. His players, too, knew their coach shared the frustration with the energy level the Great Danes brought to the court for much of that game.
“They had a clear understanding. I don’t hide my emotions very well,” Brown said during Sunday’s post-game teleconference. “They know what was going through my mind, what we needed to do.”
UAlbany junior CJ Kelly, who had a game-high 23 points Sunday, said the Great Danes received that message as part of a team meeting following Saturday’s defeat.
“We just talked about our energy,” Kelly said, “and how we can’t be letting teams outwork us.”
On Saturday, UAlbany never led and trailed New Hampshire by as many as 15 points in the second half before rallying. UAlbany trailed by as few as two points in the final minutes, but fell 71-64. In that day’s game, UAlbany shot 23.3% from the field in the first half before finishing at 37.5% for the game.
In Sunday’s rematch, UAlbany (4-4, 4-6) made 51.9% of its shots and used a full-court press at different points to speed up a New Hampshire (6-4, 7-6) team that plays at one of the slowest tempos in the America East. The Great Danes scored the game’s first six points, and possessed a double-digit lead for the final 34:16 of action.
“We just wanted to get stops and run, really,” Kelly said.
Besides Kelly’s game-best scoring production, UAlbany received 16 points from Rizzuto, 13 from graduate student Chuck Champion, a dozen from graduate student Jarvis Doles and 11 from junior Jamel Horton.
While UAlbany made more than half of its shots, New Hampshire made 26 of 60 shots and had six more turnovers than assists.
“We just executed the game plan,” Kelly said, “and the defense was the most important thing.”
UAlbany was in such a strong rhythm that redshirt juniors Cameron Healy and Adam Lulka — opening-game starters now trying to work back from injuries — only played two and five minutes, respectively.
“Our No. 1 priority is to win and it’s not fair to the rest of the team if I’m trying to work guys in just to get them minutes at the expense of potentially winning — and I’m not saying us doing that would hurt us, but [we had a] huge sense of urgency today. We had to leave here with a split,” Brown said.
Brown credited Healy and Lulka — “two very unselfish individuals” — for heading into the game for its final minutes to allow the starters to exit. Along with Healy and Lulka, freshman Jackson Brown — the coach’s son — was among the Great Danes that headed into the game at that point, and made his UAlbany debut.
UAlbany plays host next weekend to UMass Lowell. After that, UAlbany will play at Hartford the following weekend as part of a shift in schedule — and philosophy — for the America East.
The league announced Sunday, following the decision of the Vermont women’s basketball program to cancel the rest of its season, that it had largely scrapped the remainder of its previously announced schedule for the 2020-21 season. Instead, the league will begin scheduling games “in two-week increments for the rest of the season . . . in order to maximize scheduling flexibility in order to best position programs in light of COVID-19 issues.”