ALBANY — First-year head coach Dwayne Killings acknowledged it was “not the prettiest game.”
But Wednesday night’s matchup against UMass Lowell at SEFCU Arena was also one he labeled a “great character win” for the Great Danes, a team that needed to find a way to earn a victory — and did just that.
“I think it just shows our ability to overcome circumstances,” UAlbany’s Matt Cerruti said after the Great Danes’ 57-47 victory.
On a night that saw both America East Conference teams tremendously struggle on offense, UAlbany put together stops and scores down the stretch to claim its first conference win of the season.
Following a 3-pointer from Aaron Reddish to put UAlbany up 42-37, UMass Lowell answered with a 10-2 run to seemingly take control as the game headed into its final four minutes. From there, though, the Great Danes scored the final 13 points — all with their top player, a hurting De’Vondre Perry, on the bench — of the contest.
Jamel Horton scored six of the points in the Great Danes’ game-ending 13-0 run, but it was 6-foot-9 center Paul Newman whose effort best demonstrated why UAlbany was able to avoid a 0-3 start to league play. Newman scored 12 points and collected a career-high 16 rebounds — including 11 on the offensive end.
After Wednesday’s win, Newman mostly downplayed his own effort.
“Got to keep working. You know, the main goal at the end of the day is an America East championship, so we’ve just got to keep working for that,” Newman said.
Cerruti — who matched Newman with a dozen points to lead the Great Danes — watched his teammate speak with reporters after the game, then started his post-game comments by acknowledging his teammate’s career-best game.
“Paul’s a little too humble, so I’ll give him his credit that’s due,” Cerruti said. “I mean, he had 12 points,  rebounds — and 11 of them are offensive. Me, personally, I don’t think I’ve ever played with someone who has had that type of impact on the boards . . . and he’s one of those kids that puts the work in every day, doesn’t complain if he’s not getting shots, or if he’s in foul trouble and coming out of the game. So, I think, as a team, it’s great to see a kid like that succeed and do well.”
Of course, there were plenty of opportunities to collect rebounds Wednesday night at SEFCU Arena. UMass Lowell made 19 of 50 shots — and committed 21 turnovers — and UAlbany made 22 of 69. UMass Lowell’s Max Brooks helped make sure UAlbany recorded one of its worst shooting nights of the season, as the 6-foot-7 forward swatted away a career-high 10 blocks in the game.
When it mattered most, though, UAlbany discovered its offense. Horton started the 13-0 run with a bucket, then found Newman for one. A 3-pointer from Chuck Champion provided UAlbany a two-possession advantage, and then the Great Danes scored four of their final six points from the foul line.
UAlbany won despite Perry — who entered the contest averaging a team-best 13.6 points per game — making 0 of 10 shots and only scoring one point. Perry played 26 minutes in the contest, but was removed before the Great Danes’ game-ending run after he “felt something off in his knee.” After the game, Perry left the court with a noticeable limp and with significant assistance from KJ Baptiste, UAlbany’s director of recruiting and video.
UAlbany, though, didn’t have its full roster even before Perry was seemingly unavailable. While Cerruti, Luke Fizulich and Trey Hutcheson returned for UAlbany after missing the last two games due to health-and-safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Great Danes were without reserves Tairi Ketner and Justin Neely against UMass Lowell.
Killings declined to answer why Ketner and Neely were not at Wednesday’s game — but Cerruti seemed to confirm the reason for their absence.
“I know me, Trey and Luke all just got back [from protocols] — and, then, the next day, Justin Neely and [Ketner] are gone,” Cerruti said.
For UMass Lowell (1-3 America East, 9-7 overall), Everette Hammond was the only double-digit scorer with 13 points. Head coach Pat Duquette said his team has played well defensively this season, but Wednesday’s combination of poor shooting and ball-handling was too much for his club to overcome.
“I think we are [better defensively], but not good enough to win a game like this when we shoot 3 for 16 from [3-point territory] and 6 for 12 from the free-throw line — you’d have to be a really, really good defensive team to overcome that,” Duquette said.
UAlbany (1-2, 5-10) had three double-digit scorers, with Horton contributing 10 points to go along with the 12-point nights from Cerruti and Newman. Jarvis Doles also added nine points.
UAlbany next plays Saturday against NJIT, which had won its first three America East games before losing 76-56 Wednesday against UMBC.
Heading into that game, Cerruti echoed his coach’s take on Wednesday’s result and said UAlbany needs to take advantage of the chance it has to get back to .500 in league play.
“Overall, it’s obviously a great character win,” Cerruti said, “and we’ve just got to keep building from that.”