ALBANY — Throughout his first season leading the UAlbany men’s basketball program, head coach Dwayne Killings has made building a winning culture a focus.
The “mentality” the Great Danes have spent nearly a year forming is one they will lean on as they try to bounce back from one of their season’s toughest weeks. UAlbany lost a pair of home games last week, to the America East Conference’s first- and last-place teams, and now heads to Binghamton for a 7 p.m. game Wednesday.
That contest against the Bearcats starts a regular-season-closing stretch of five games, a span that begins with four consecutive games against teams that beat the Great Danes earlier this season. UAlbany guard Matt Cerruti, though, said the Great Danes remain a “confident group,” and one buoyed by the belief it’s built up in itself.
“Coach always preaches [that] we’ve got to focus on ourselves. It’s about us at the end of the day,” Cerruti said Tuesday. “So, no matter who we’re playing, who’s next, or who we just played, we’ve got to look in the mirror and focus on ourselves. Our [coaching] staff does a good job of pouring confidence into us — and now it’s up to us to kind of take that and [turn] that [into] success on the court.”
UAlbany (6-7 league, 10-15 overall) lost to Binghamton (7-6, 10-12) to start its conference season, as the Bearcats won by nine in a game that saw the Great Danes allow a season-worst 88 points. The teams’ rematch is a critical one, as — among postseason-eligible teams — Binghamton is part of a three-way tie for the No. 2 seed and UAlbany is a game back from that mix.
Binghamton, with Levell Sanders serving as head coach after the school dismissed Tommy Dempsey following last season, is the top surprise of the America East this season. Picked to finish last in the league, Binghamton is contending to host a home playoff game and looks likely to post its best record since the program last had a winning season in 2008-09 when it finished 23-9.Binghamton hasn’t won more than 13 games in a season since that 2008-09 campaign.
“I think they’ve done a great job this season,” Killings said. “They’re a good team. They’re really versatile and aggressive on offense.”
After playing Binghamton, UAlbany plays Saturday against New Hampshire, another team that’s ahead of the Great Danes in the standings. Despite losing four of its last five games, UAlbany still has a solid shot to earn a home playoff game — and Cerruti said the Great Danes know they have a lot to play for the rest of the regular season.
“This is our chance, right here,” Cerruti said. “We go on a run, we could get anything we want.”
AN INTERESTING DEVELOPMENT
Near the end of a drill at Tuesday’s practice, De’Vondre Perry — UAlbany’s leading scorer on the season — crashed the glass hard, moving quickly and making plenty of contact with teammate Trey Hutcheson as the two players went for the ball.
In short, Perry looked very much like any other player at the practice . . . which was plenty notable since Perry had surgery for a “minor meniscus tear” in his right knee on Jan. 21, a procedure that was described as a season-ending one.
Before Tuesday’s practice started, Killings said Perry has participated “in some limited 5-on-5 settings.” The coach said there’s been no change to Perry’s status as out for the season.
“You know, we haven’t even thought or talked about [him] coming back during the season,” Killings said. “Just kind of letting him rehab, and it’s good to have his presence here with us.”
Colleen Mullen knows her group, one the fourth-year UAlbany women’s basketball head coach has routinely referred to as “special” throughout this season.
So, coming off a disappointing loss Monday at Vermont, Mullen has a pretty good idea what to expect from the Great Danes when they host Binghamton at 7 p.m. Wednesday at SEFCU Arena.
“This team, certainly, has shown that after a loss they can bounce back,” Mullen said.
Since losing three games to fall to 1-3 on the season, UAlbany (10-4, 17-8) hasn’t lost consecutive games. Back on its home floor, where the Great Danes are 12-0 this season, Mullen said her club will be ready to bounce back.
“I know that they’re going to be ready to compete,” Mullen said.
Previously, UAlbany defeated Binghamton (1-11, 5-17) on the final day of January. In that 52-41 win, UAlbany only made one field goal in the first quarter and committed two 10-seconds violations as Binghamton built a 13-4 lead. The Great Danes, though, scored the second quarter’s first 22 points to take control.