ALBANY — On Saturday, as they will need to moving forward, the Great Danes had to find a way to win without De’Vondre Perry, the team’s leading player in more ways than one who will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
The UAlbany men’s basketball team was successful at that task in its first attempt — and the reason for that, as first-year head coach Dwayne Killings saw it, was because of how much Perry had already given to the Great Danes.
“I think he was helping our program more than we were helping him, and the reason why I say that is that I think he was helping build our culture,” Killings said of Perry, a 6-foot-7 forward who ranks No. 1 this season for the Great Danes in points, steals, blocks and minutes played. “I think he was helping teach our guys . . . how to be winners.”
In a social-media post the night before UAlbany’s inspired 71-56 win Saturday at SEFCU Arena against NJIT in America East action, Perry announced he’d miss the rest of the season and needed surgery. After the shorthanded Great Danes’ 15-point win, Killings confirmed that Perry — who was on the bench for Saturday’s game, often using a crutch when he needed to move — had torn the meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery next Friday.
“I feel really bad for him,” Killings said of Perry, a graduate transfer from Temple. “But our guys responded. What we . . . talked about [is] everybody doing a little bit more, coaches and players, to fill the gap.”
The Great Danes did that against NJIT. Now with four players out due to season-ending injuries and two more players — Tairi Ketner and Justin Neely — missing at the moment because of health-and-safety protocols, UAlbany had an active roster of nine players for Saturday’s matchup, and each of those Great Danes scored in a win that was never in doubt after a late first-half run.
Matt Cerruti led UAlbany with 18 points, while Jamel Horton contributed 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Jarvis Doles and walk-on Luke Fizulich each added nine points.
“Obviously, losing [Perry] is devastating. Single-handedly, he’s not really someone you could make up for,” said Cerruti, who is Perry’s roommate. “Coach Killings preached [that] everyone’s got to do something more — and, I think, just looking at this box score, everyone did a little bit more. Going forward, we’re going to have to do the same thing. But, overall, a great, complete team win.”
UAlbany took a 31-18 lead into the second half after a run late in the first half. Prior to the teams exchanging baskets in the final minute of the first half, the Great Danes produced a 13-0 run that included five points from Chuck Champion and four from Horton. During the 13-0 run, too, Cerruti made a pair of free throws after NJIT’s James Lee was called for a technical foul after appearing to try to trip Cerruti.
Right after halftime, the teams exchanged made 3-pointers, then UAlbany (2-2 America East, 6-10 overall) produced a 10-2 run. Following that stretch, NJIT (3-2, 8-7) was never closer than 16 points until the Highlanders scored the game’s final basket to pull to within their 15-point losing margin.
UAlbany led by as many as 22 points in the second half, a period that included all 20 of NJIT’s Miles Coleman’s game-high points total.
“Everybody competed,” Doles said of the Great Danes. “We know who their key players were and we stepped up, took the challenge and tried to hone in on them guys, and just be tough, play hard and compete.”
While Killings — likely with gamesmanship in mind — had said Friday during a teleconference with media members that Perry was questionable for Saturday’s game, Cerruti said Perry found out he needed surgery Thursday night and had immediately told his teammates. Perry had looked off during Wednesday’s 10-point win against UMass Lowell, missing all 10 of his field-goal attempts and only scoring one point. He wasn’t available to play in that game’s final minutes, then required significant assistance from a member of the UAlbany coaching staff to limp from the court area to the locker room following the game.
Killings said “responding to the challenge” was a rallying cry with his able-to-play Great Danes.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Killings said. “It’s not the way life works.”
Perry, too, helped make sure the Great Danes were mentally prepared to play against NJIT. Killings said Perry was at Friday’s practice to help coach his teammates.
“Seeing him at practice [Friday] was terrific because he then was teaching our guys how to do what he was doing, and that’s just work and prepare himself,” Killings said.
Years ago, as an assistant coach at Temple, Killings had helped recruit Perry to the Owls. As a head coach, Killings brought Perry to UAlbany as much for off-court reasons as on-court ones.
“His presence,” Killings said, “gives us a seriousness.”
In 15 games this season, Perry averaged 12.8 points, five rebounds and 1.5 steals in 33.1 minutes per game.
Without Perry on the court, UAlbany will likely need to win the way it did Saturday: by getting scoring contributions from a bunch of players, taking care of the ball — the Great Danes had only eight turnovers — and defending at a high level. Perry is the only UAlbany player this season averaging double-digit scoring, as the team’s next-highest scorers — Cerruti and Horton — each check in at 9.9.
“We have to come together as a team and, like Coach says, everybody has to do just a little bit more,” Doles said.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY EVENT
The UAlbany men’s basketball program is holding a “Reading With The Great Danes” event at 10 a.m. Monday in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Killings said the event — hosted through Zoom — will include members of the Great Danes reading “a book or two,” but also leading a discussion.
“We’ll have some different kids on our team talk about what Martin Luther King has done for them as individuals, and also talk a little bit about their experiences in college, which I think can be impactful for different people from all walks of life, which is really important,” Killings said. “I think days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s a big holiday in our communities, in our world, but I think . . . it’s really important that people take time to have conversations they don’t always take [time to], and hopefully people at home, families at home, get a chance to be a part of our program, get a chance to hear about our message.”
For information regarding how to take part in the event, contact [email protected]