His club’s America East Conference regular season is in its final week, and “there’s a lot of desperation in these games.”
But UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings is confident in his team’s approach and mindset, enough so that he doesn’t feel he needs to impress upon his Great Danes how important Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Stony Brook is for them.
“I think our kids know it. It’s the end of February, it’s almost March. You know, if you don’t know how important every game is, then I don’t know if our kids pay enough attention to college basketball,” Killings said Friday during a teleconference with reporters. “So, I don’t want to put any added pressure on them. They’re aware and we loosely talk about it. We talk about our goals, though, and if we understand our goals, then we understand the magnitude of every game that we play.”
UAlbany (9-7 league, 13-15 overall) is tied for second place with UMBC, but the America East standings remain tightly bunched. Two wins to close its regular season could net UAlbany the No. 2 seed for the playoffs, but two losses could send the Great Danes on the road for their first playoff game. Vermont has already clinched the league’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
While UAlbany has the upcoming postseason to motivate it, Stony Brook (8-8, 16-13) lacks that since the Seawolves are ineligible for the league playoffs stemming from the school’s decision to leave for the Colonial Athletic Association after this school year. Stony Brook’s lost six of its last nine games, and the Seawolves’ active roster has lost five players — for varied reasons — in the last several weeks. The Great Danes have won their last three games, including Wednesday’s comeback victory in which UAlbany trailed by 16 points against Maine, while Stony Brook has lost its last two games and is coming off a 17-point loss against UMass Lowell.
“I think it has to [mean] more to us,” Killings said of his team’s rematch with Stony Brook, which defeated the Great Danes in Albany in January. “That’s no disrespect to Stony Brook’s program or their situation. It has to mean more [to us]; if it means more to them, then that’s going to be a problem for everybody within our program. It has to mean a lot to us, and that [goes] for every game, every second, that we’re on the court moving forward.”
From the teams’ first meeting this season, two Stony Brook starters — Jahlil Jenkins and Juan Felix Rodriguez — are no longer available for the Seawolves. Stony Brook’s leading scorer from that January game at SEFCU Arena was Anthony Roberts, but the 6-foot-4 guard didn’t play in the Seawolves’ last game.
UAlbany should have the full complement of players available that it’s had for its recent games, except it’s possible back-up center Tairi Ketner (personal) could miss the game.
Killings said each member of the Great Danes “was like a kid in the candy store,” when UAlbany conducted a workout Thursday at Auerbach Center, the Boston Celtics’ practice facility that opened in 2018.
Right after playing at Maine Wednesday night, the Great Danes headed to Boston and practiced in the city before finishing its trip to Long Island later that day. Killings said he knew some people with the Celtics, but said KJ Baptiste — UAlbany’s director of recruiting and video who, like Killings, is a Massachusetts native — played a major role in helping the Great Danes gain access to the facility.
UAlbany junior Trey Hutcheson said the Great Danes were “starstruck” when they arrived at Auerbach Center, and said the team’s players took nearly as many photos and videos of their surroundings as they did jump shots on the court.
“It was awesome. I mean, that’s an experience that I’ve never had before, and I’m sure there’s a lot of other guys on the team that have never been that close to the NBA side of things,” Hutcheson said. “I mean, the facility was incredible. Getting to shoot there, watch film, lift there and all that — it was amazing. For all of us, it took us back to the fan part of things, where we see [NBA] guys on TV all the time.”
Freshman Justin Neely — a Miami Heat fan who has rooted against the Celtics in some memorable postseason matchups — said the experience allowed the Great Danes a chance to “see what it’s like to be a pro a little bit” as part of their preparation to play Stony Brook.
“I think it was great for the team. We had a lot of fun, and still got some work in, as well,” Neely said. “So, it was awesome. I appreciated being able to do that.”