ALBANY — Will Brown characterized it as a “nice, honest talk” that his UAlbany men’s basketball team had at halftime of Saturday’s America East Conference game against UMass Lowell.
“And,” Brown said after his team’s comeback 81-69 win, “I thought they really got the message.”
Which, to “sum it up,” as UAlbany junior Antonio Rizzuto put it, was that “basically, we played soft.”
He added: “So we had to come out and . . . play like how we know how to play. Play scrappy. Punch them in the mouth, pretty much.”
A day after UMass Lowell made 80% of its second-half shots to turn a two-point halftime lead into an eight-point win, the Great Danes again trailed by two points at the break. This time, though, UAlbany started the second half with an 11-0 run and held UMass Lowell to 29.7% shooting during a stanza that saw the River Hawks trail by as many as 17 points.
“We really took it personal after the first half, down two, knowing that we’re a lot better than that,” said Rizzuto, who had a team-high 17 points and limited UMass Lowell redshirt sophomore Bryce Daley to nine points after he had 17 in Friday’s game.
“I think our halftime speech really got us going,” said UAlbany graduate student Kellon Taylor, who had 16 points and seven rebounds.
In that speech, Brown said both he and associate head coach Jon Iati “got upset” with the Great Danes after a first half in which they “really didn’t give any resistance defensively.” UAlbany made a key adjustment at halftime — the Great Danes switched on all screens in the second half, minus plays involving the River Hawks’ 5 — but that strategic change was only a small piece to Saturday’s win.
“We didn’t think our toughness was where it needed to be, and, you know what, I think our guys responded,” Brown said during a post-game teleconference. “I think they took that personally. I think they took that as a challenge.”
The series between UAlbany and UMass Lowell included two games played in approximately 22 hours. UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette said toughness was what decided Saturday’s game, and that “it was going to come down to who fights fatigue, and who gives in and who doesn’t. I thought there was a stretch there where we gave in.”
UAlbany (5-5 America East, 5-7 overall) played again without graduate student Jarvis Doles and junior CJ Kelly, who, while never 100% unconfirmed, appeared to be the two Great Danes the school ruled out from this weekend’s games because of COVID-19 protocols. Meanwhile, UMass Lowell (7-7, 8-10) played for the fourth consecutive game without America East leading scorer Obadiah Noel (undisclosed) in its lineup.
Without two of its top players available, UAlbany had four players register double-digit scoring — including redshirt junior Cameron Healy with 10 points. Healy has struggled this season with an oblique injury, and the Great Danes’ top returning scorer from last season had only previously contributed double-digit scoring this season in UAlbany’s opening game.
Also contributing Saturday was freshman Will Amica, who debuted after working back from a head injury. The freshman guard had six points in nine minutes, and Brown said he expects Amica to see his role grow.
“He’s been really good in practice — really good,” Brown said.
UAlbany is scheduled to play next weekend against Stony Brook. Brown wants to see the defensive toughness his team showed in Saturday’s second half carry over into his team’s games against the Seawolves.
“If our nose hardens a little bit more, and we play a little more physical, I think really good things will happen for us down the stretch,” Brown said.
MAINE OPTS OUT
Maine announced Saturday it had ended its season, as the club became the first America East men’s program to make such a decision in this season played amid an ongoing pandemic.
Maine was 2-7 overall this season. UAlbany had not played Maine.
Three America East women’s programs — Hartford UMBC and Vermont — have also ended their seasons.