UAlbany men’s basketball looks to avenge past loss against Maine

University at Albany's Paul Newman takes a shot next to UNH's Taylor Mattos Saturday, February 19, 2022.

University at Albany's Paul Newman takes a shot next to UNH's Taylor Mattos Saturday, February 19, 2022.

ALBANY — It was, without question, the Great Danes’ most disappointing loss of the season, a result that made it easy to wonder if the UAlbany men’s basketball season was on the verge of being unable to get itself back on track.

Two weeks later, UAlbany gets its second chance against Maine, and head coach Dwayne Killings’ club has the chance to use this rematch to push itself one step closer to earning a home game or two in the approaching America East Conference playoffs.

“Right now, it’s just focusing on literally every possession,” Killings said of his team’s mindset ahead of its 7 p.m. Wednesday game at Maine. “Execution is so important.”

UAlbany (8-7 league, 12-15 overall) certainly didn’t maintain sufficient focus or execute at a high enough level when it first played last-place Maine (3-12, 6-20) earlier this month at SEFCU Arena. Against a club that had only registered one prior win against a Division I foe and with the Great Danes’ stated focus centered around making sure Maine didn’t gain momentum from behind the 3-point line, UAlbany suffered a 73-63 defeat that saw the visiting Black Bears drain 13 of 22 shots from downtown.

“They definitely shoot the [3] a lot and we knew that going in,” UAlbany graduate student Matt Cerruti said. “But we can’t rely on just hoping for them to miss or make. It has to be [that] we’ve got to make them miss [with] our defense, and I don’t think we did a great job of that.”

Since that loss to Maine, which was the fourth game in a stretch of five that saw the Great Danes lose four times, UAlbany has righted itself. A loss against first-place Vermont followed that defeat against Maine, but UAlbany then won its next two games to put itself into a three-way tie for the second seed in the conference’s jumbled standings. Including Stony Brook, which is ineligible for this year’s postseason, nine of the league’s teams have between seven and nine losses as the regular season winds down.

After playing Maine, UAlbany will play Stony Brook (8-7, 16-12) and Hartford (7-7, 9-17) to close out its regular season. Tiebreaker scenarios look likely to come into play, and are messy to figure out at the moment, but a 2-1 finish would likely assure the Great Danes of at least starting the playoffs with a game at SEFCU Arena. Killings, though, said the Great Danes are not fixated on the standings, but rather on making sure they have the on-court “urgency” to keep them from needing to pay so much attention to the outcomes of other games.

“The point of the message to our team is, it’s who wants it the most . . . [and] are we going to get every loose ball, are we going to make every box out, are we going to fight every single second of a game? Because it could be one possession that’s the difference [between] winning and losing,” Killings said Monday during a teleconference with reporters.

Maine, which hasn’t recorded a regular-season sweep of UAlbany since the 2009-10 campaign, needs to win the rest of its regular-season games and receive a lot of additional help to make the league playoffs. Last week, the school parted ways with coach Richard Barron, a move that put Jason “Jai” Steadman in charge for the rest of the season as interim head coach. Maine won its first game with Steadman leading it, a 65-61 victory against NJIT, and Killings said he expects the Black Bears to provide a strong effort against his club.

“I think anytime there’s a shift in that respect, usually . . . they come out with a little pop because everybody’s trying to rally together, overcome the circumstances,” Killings said.

UAlbany left Tuesday to head to Maine and won’t return to campus until after playing Stony Brook this Saturday evening. After its game against Maine, UAlbany will head to Boston, spend the night there, then practice Thursday in the city before finishing the drive to Long Island. On Friday, the Great Danes will “have a yoga session, culture meeting, study hall, get a little break, have practice that night, and get ready to rock and roll” for what will be the program’s final road game of the regular season.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us this late in the season just to be together, focus on our opportunity and keep trying to get better,” Killings said of the extended road trip.

Categories: College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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