Before his team started its current three-games-in-six-days stretch, first-year head coach Dwayne Killings called the batch of games a “championship week” for the Great Danes.
The label was meant to help focus the UAlbany men’s basketball team during a stretch that’s similar in makeup to the one it hopes to have success in this March during America East postseason play.
The current trio of games started with a playoff-like contest, as the Great Danes picked up a 64-62 overtime win Wednesday against UMass Lowell.
“We kept chopping, just believed in ourselves,” UAlbany’s Matt Cerruti said after the victory, which saw him make the final basket of regulation and score the game-winning points in overtime from the foul line. “We preach that it’s us versus the world; we’re all we’ve got, we’re all we have, and that’s all we need. So [we] go by that mantra — and, at the end of the game, it showed.”
Already this season, UAlbany has shown it has the ability to win the close ones. The club has played six games that ended with margins of no more than two possessions, and the Great Danes are 4-2 in those contests.
Killings doesn’t believe that’s an accident.
“I think we’re tough-minded. We’re a tough group,” Killings said. “We get on the bus, come out here and do what we do: we play basketball. It’s a great opportunity for us. I think the biggest thing is . . . we believe in each other — and we don’t fold. I think it’s really easy to fold in [close-game] situations. But that’s not what we do. That’s not our mindset.”
UAlbany, which is in fourth place in the America East standings with a 4-3 league mark, next plays Saturday at NJIT. The Highlanders are 3-5 in conference action and are in eighth place in the 10-team America East.
When the teams played in mid-January in Albany, the Great Danes won 71-56.
Since the loss of De’Vondre Perry, UAlbany’s leading per-game scorer at 12.8 points, the Great Danes have frequently mentioned how each player needs to do a bit more.
That need goes beyond just scoring, but the Great Danes hit a notable mark in Wednesday’s win in terms of that category. With Cerruti and Paul Newman each scoring 16 points, Jamel Horton adding 13 and Jarvis Doles contributing 11, the win against UMass Lowell was UAlbany’s first game with at least four double-digit scorers since the club’s second contest of the season.
At the time UAlbany lost Perry — who had season-ending knee surgery last Friday — the Great Danes had no other players averaging double-digit scoring. After the first four games without Perry, Cerruti (11.1) and Horton (10.8) have changed that. In conference play, which UAlbany has played the majority of without Perry, Horton is averaging 16.4 points per game while Cerruti’s at 16.2.
Perry had remained the team’s overall leading scorer until this past game. Horton’s season scoring total now stands at 194 points, two ahead of Perry’s total.