It’s been that kind of stretch for the Great Danes.
With less than five seconds to go in Saturday’s road America East Conference game at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, New Hampshire, UAlbany men’s basketball guard Jamel Horton stepped to the foul line with his team down three points.
Horton made the first free throw.
Then, on the second attempt, Horton put extra loft on the shot in an attempt to miss so the Great Danes could go after an offensive rebound to earn a much-needed possession.
And . . .
“I just made it,” Horton said of his unexpected, nothing-but-net offering.
It certainly wasn’t what cost the Great Danes the game in their 64-62 loss against New Hampshire, but it was a moment indicative of a lot of what’s gone wrong for UAlbany since it won three times in a four-game stretch prior to Christmas.
“You need some luck,” UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings said after Saturday’s loss.
Recently, UAlbany’s only had bad luck. Since its strong stretch of play entering into their holiday break, the Great Danes had to call off two games due to health-and-safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, then lost a pair of America East games they played without two of their regular starters — Matt Cerruti and Trey Hutcheson — because they remain in protocols. The first of those league games was a loss against Binghamton, a program that hadn’t won since 2010 at SEFCU Arena, in which UAlbany allowed a season-worst 88 points, then the second was Saturday’s matchup that saw the Great Danes run into way too much Nick Guadarrama and unable to make some key plays of their own.
“Just didn’t go our way,” Killings said regarding the unintentional free-throw make from Horton, but the sentiment fit for last couple weeks for his program, too.
In the first half, it seemed like Guadarrama might simply carry New Hampshire (1-1 America East, 6-5 overall) past UAlbany (0-2 America East, 4-10 overall) on his own. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound forward made his first eight shots — including five from 3-point territory — during a first half that saw the senior score 23 of his game-high 32 points. The 32 points was a career-high for Guadarrama, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 10.8 points per game this season.
“We honestly had no answer for him,” said Horton, who scored a team-high 22 points. “He’s good. You’ve got to tip your hat to somebody who’s scoring like that.”
New Hampshire had separate runs of 7-0, 8-0 and 11-0 in the first half and a lead as large as 15 points, but UAlbany found itself within 38-28 at halftime. The teams traded some mini-runs to start the second half, but New Hampshire appeared to take control when it built its lead to 55-44 as the Great Danes went more than five minutes with scoring.
But UAlbany kept fighting and clawing — and the eventual reward for that was a 10-0 run that delivered the Great Danes their first, and only, lead of the game when Horton made a layup and a free throw with 43.7 seconds to go.
“We challenged our guys at halftime. I thought we had to be more competitive. I thought we had to be grittier. We talked about how hard it is to win on the road,” Killings said. “I thought our guys really responded. I was really proud of the toughness and the grit that we had in the second half.”
A designed play for Guadarrama, though, gave a one-point lead back to New Hampshire, and that advantage grew to three when Guadarrama made two free throws following a Chuck Champion miss for the Great Danes.
Horton’s free throws followed Guadarrama’s. As the second of Horton’s foul shots made it through the net, Horton’s body language confirmed what he had been trying to do.
“I tried to get back rim so it had a good bounce on it,” said Horton, who had teammates Justin Neely and De’Vondre Perry crashing the glass on the play.
New Hampshire made 1 of 2 free throws after Horton’s foul shots, and UAlbany had one more chance. The ball went to Perry, who dribbled up the court, then — as there was some contact — ended up on the court as he lost control of the ball at the top of the key as time expired in regulation.
“I guess he slipped and fell — that’s not how I saw it,” Killings said.
After scoring a career-high 26 points against Binghamton, Perry was 2 of 10 shooting for eight points against New Hampshire. Perry was 4 of 4 from the foul line, and Killings seemed to take issue that the forward didn’t end up more often at the foul line throughout the game.
“He needs to be protected,” Killings said. “It’s unfortunate, at this point, that those things don’t happen, but, hopefully, as we move forward, we can continue to put some pressure on the game, and the people managing the game, so that way it’s reflected in the things he does when he puts pressure on the rim and he’s trying to score in traffic.”
Nick Johnson had 14 points for New Hampshire, while Jarvis Doles and Paul Newman each had eight for the Great Danes.
Neely had a game-high 12 rebounds off the UAlbany bench.
UAlbany next plays Wednesday against UMass Lowell at SEFCU Arena.