ALBANY — For both UAlbany basketball teams, coming off losses to their SUNY rival that announced Tuesday it’s leaving the America East after this season, there’s no time to lament what went wrong this past weekend.
The Great Danes’ men’s and women’s teams each lost matchups with Stony Brook, but contests against UMass Lowell are set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Both groups of Great Danes already own wins this season against the River Hawks. UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings’ team won 57-47 earlier this month at SEFCU Arena against UMass Lowell, while head coach Colleen Mullen’s women’s basketball program secured a 58-52 win.
This week, the men’s team is on the road against UMass Lowell, while the women’s team plays the first of back-to-back home games.
HAHNE MAKING PROGRESS
While it’s unclear if Ellen Hahne (health-and-safety protocols) will play in Wednesday’s game for Mullen’s team, the senior forward has returned to practice after missing the last six games.
“I hadn’t really been able to practice for a while now,” Hahne said after Tuesday’s workout. “I’m just getting back and kind of taking it day by day, [seeing] where I’m at.”
Kayla Cooper delivered several standout performances in Hahne’s absence, but the Great Danes will gladly welcome Hahne — one of the team’s best overall players — back into the mix when she’s ready to go. Mullen said Hahne’s return to practice has served as “almost a deep breath for everybody,” in how her presence has calmed the group, and junior Grace Heeps seconded that.
“I’m very excited to have her back and have another leader to add on the court, both on the offensive end and the defensive end,” Heeps said. “I think we’ve all been waiting for this moment. It’s like, we’re finally complete. Everyone’s healthy, everyone’s back. So it’s very exciting for us for sure.”
Due to injuries and health-and-safety protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, UAlbany has not played a game with its full roster of players available since its Dec. 21 win against Central Connecticut. The Great Danes are 5-2 during that stretch.
Against UMass Lowell (3-1 America East, 6-7 overall), UAlbany (4-2, 11-6) will look to keep its perfect record at SEFCU Arena. The Great Danes have won all eight games they’ve played this season on their home floor.
While Tuesday’s practice was her first full-contact workout since late December, Hahne said she’s been participating in some team activities for several days. The senior from Sweden said she’s “very hopeful” she’ll be able to play against UMass Lowell.
“So, we’ll see, but it’s definitely fun to be on the court with the team again,” Hahne said.
Wednesday’s game at Costello Athletic Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, starts a three-road-games-in-six-days stretch for the UAlbany men’s basketball team that Killings has dubbed “championship week” for his program.
Freshman Justin Neely said the team understands there is not a “trophy at the end” to be secured with a successful trio of games, but the Great Danes want to use the week to show they have championship mettle for later in the season.
“It’s great for our culture,” Neely said before Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve got back-to-back-to-back games to really show how competitive we are . . . and we’re looking to come out 3-0.”
Usually, teams go through pains to keep the focus on a singular game. Killings, though, said he often takes a three-games-at-a-time approach in terms of how he tracks his club’s progress, and he wanted to use the upcoming burst of games to somewhat mimic the postseason when a team needs to win three America East playoff games to advance to the NCAA tournament.
“So we need to put that in their mind a little bit. Now, we’re not looking ahead each game; we’re focused in the moment, and we talk about being consumed in the moment that we’re in,” Killings said. “But, at the same time, we have a great opportunity to challenge our program over a three-game period — and I want to be honest with our guys. I mean, you know, I think you say a lot of things as coaches, but the reality is, you’ve got three big games in one week, and I know when they get to their dorm, they’re thinking about all three of them, but we need to focus on one of them at a time.”
After playing UMass Lowell (2-4, 10-8), UAlbany (3-3, 7-11) will play at NJIT on Saturday and at conference-leading Vermont two days later. Starting with its game against the River Hawks, UAlbany wants to get back to playing its style of basketball after the Great Danes uncharacteristically allowed Stony Brook to score 86 points this past weekend in a loss that snapped a three-game winning streak for Killings’ club.
“We want to keep teams out of transition, we want to control the pace and we want to grind out games,” UAlbany’s Jamel Horton said. “That’s what we do best.”
While UAlbany is already without four scholarship players due to season-ending injuries, it’s possible freshman Aaron Reddish will also miss the Great Danes’ game against UMass Lowell. Reddish suffered an ankle injury during Monday’s practice and sat out Tuesday’s workout.