ALBANY — The Saint Rose men’s basketball team could practice and work out, but couldn’t play games for the longest time.
“You kind of get sick of just working out every day,” freshman Shane O’Dell said Friday. “You want to play so bad, so this one felt real good.”
Saint Rose was just less than two weeks away from going a full year without playing a game, but broke that streak Friday with a non-conference game against St. Thomas Aquinas. While head coach Mike Perno’s Golden Knights fell 97-92 inside a spectator-free Daniel P. Nolan Gymnasium in a game that was scheduled less than 48 hours before it was played, any sting from that defeat was masked with the joy that came with getting the chance to wear the uniform for the first time this winter.
“It was awesome,” said Saint Rose senior Adam Anderson, expressing a sentiment rarely heard from a player minutes removed from a loss in a competitive game.
He added: “Over that 11-month period [since Saint Rose last played], sometimes you don’t know what you’re working for — but this is exactly what we were working for.”
The game was competitive from start to finish, but St. Thomas Aquinas never trailed after moving ahead 74-73 with less than eight minutes to go. Saint Rose only trailed 90-87 heading into the final minute after a basket from sophomore Cartier Bowman, but St. Thomas Aquinas answered with a 3-pointer on the next possession and maintained at least a two-possession advantage for the rest of the game.
“They made big plays and big shots,” Perno said of St. Thomas Aquinas, a 4-0 club that is ranked No. 17 in the NABC National Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the D2SIDA Media Poll.
Coming off a 6-22 season, Saint Rose started two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior. Two of the starters — Anderson (Saratoga Springs) and O’Dell (Schalmont) — were former Section II high school stars, while another — freshman Keegan Zoller (Ballston Spa) — earned minutes as a reserve for Perno’s team.
O’Dell, who had his high school career ended when concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association playoffs last March, starred in his debut for Saint Rose. The 6-foot-6 freshman led Saint Rose with 23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in 37 minutes.
“For a freshman, I just feel like he plays with a calm about him,” Perno said. “He doesn’t show any emotion. He just plays. He does a little bit of everything, as you can see on the stat sheet.”
Perno said the “biggest thing” he liked about O’Dell debut performance was how he attacked the basket. He earned 11 foul shots, and made nine of them.
The freshman, though, said he would have traded some of the individual success he had for a victory.
“I just wanted to win the game,” O’Dell said.
That didn’t happen Friday, but Saint Rose will get another chance next Wednesday at Molloy. That’s currently the only other game on the schedule for Saint Rose, which is trying to find games since its Northeast-10 Conference is not active this basketball season.
Perno said he received school confirmation he could start scheduling games this past Wednesday at approximately 1 p.m. Friday’s game was scheduled a few hours later.
That left little time for Saint Rose to prepare for its first contest. Some rust certainly showed — Saint Rose committed 14 of its 21 turnovers in the first half — but the Golden Knights outdid expectations against a ranked squad.
“I was very happy,” Perno said. “We have a young group, a group that’s growing.”
For St. Thomas Aquinas, Osbel Caraballo had 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Besides O’Dell’s strong game, Saint Rose received 18 points from Anderson. In all, five Golden Knights produced double-digit scoring.