ALBANY — Down only two points at halftime, a short-handed UAlbany men’s basketball team made more than half its shots from the field in the second half.
And, on Friday night, that wasn’t enough to keep up with visiting UMass Lowell at SEFCU Arena.
“Offense wasn’t an issue in the second half,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said during a post-game teleconference. “Defense was.”
In its 79-71 win, UMass Lowell made 20 of 25 second-half shots as it topped UAlbany in the Great Danes’ return to action after its latest pause. Despite playing without senior Obadiah Noel, the leading scorer this season in the America East Conference at 21.2 points per game, UMass Lowell made 60.4% of its shots for the game, scored 53 points after halftime and was able to secure a road win despite UAlbany junior Antonio Rizzuto scoring a career-high 25 points.
“With Noel being out, some guys had to step up for them and we had to adjust — and we didn’t do that,” said Rizzuto, whose previous career-high was 21 points. “They made a lot of shots in the second half and we’ve got to adjust [Saturday].”
While UMass Lowell (7-6 America East, 8-9 overall) was without Noel for the third consecutive game, UAlbany (4-5, 4-7) played without two starters in graduate student Jarvis Doles and junior CJ Kelly, the latter the Great Danes’ leading scorer this season. UAlbany had announced earlier in the week that it would be without two unidentified players for this weekend’s games because of COVID-19 protocols. Brown didn’t confirm that Doles and Kelly were those two players, “but you know who was out and who wasn’t,” and Rizzuto said that the Great Danes know they’ll again be without Doles and Kelly for Saturday’s 3 p.m. rematch with UMass Lowell.
“I don’t like to make excuses, but they’re obviously a huge part of our team this year and we really missed them tonight,” Rizzuto said.
UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette confirmed, too, that his team will be without Noel for his team’s rematch with the Great Danes. Duquette said he was “not allowed to get into the specifics there” when asked about Noel’s status, but said that he hopes the 6-foot-4 senior can return “soon.”
Without Noel, though, UMass Lowell has won two of three games.
“In some ways, it’s kind of what our team needed,” Duquette said. “We were somewhat reliant on him — not too bad, but a little bit too much — and this has really allowed other guys to step up, and learn about themselves and do more.”
Four UMass Lowell players contributed double-digit scoring. Sophomore Connor Withers had a team-high 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting.
Despite UMass Lowell making one shot after another in what Rizzuto called a “super-frustrating” second half, the Great Danes only trailed 65-61 with five minutes to go in their first game since cruising to a Jan. 24 win at New Hampshire. UMass Lowell, though, scored the next four points and UAlbany never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I thought in the second half, we got in a better rhythm offensively,” Brown said. “The problem was, so did they.”
Each team had four starters play at least 30 minutes in a game that ended approximately 18 hours before Saturday’s contest at SEFCU Arena will start. There isn’t much time to rest, but Rizzuto said the Great Danes know they need to be better in order to secure a series split.
“We’ve got to adjust, learn from today’s game and just come out stronger,” Rizzuto said.
Graduate student Kellon Taylor had 13 points for UAlbany and graduate student Chuck Champion had a dozen. For the game, UAlbany made 43.1% of its shots.