ALBANY — The message was perhaps overly rosy given the UAlbany men’s basketball team had just lost a game that cost it a home game in the upcoming America East Conference playoffs.
But, two things.
One, De’Vondre Perry wasn’t wrong about what he said.
And, two, Perry was the one saying it after playing in Tuesday’s game at SEFCU Arena — and his participation provided plenty of optimism for the Great Danes as they head into the postseason.
Perry, who suffered what was described in mid-January as a season-ending knee injury, returned Tuesday night for the UAlbany men’s basketball team in its regular-season finale 39 days after he had a meniscectomy on his right knee. The Great Danes’ leading scorer before his injury, Perry came off the bench and scored six points in 23 minutes of action in UAlbany’s 67-55 loss to Hartford.
With the loss, UAlbany dropped to taking the No. 5 seed for the playoffs that start Sunday — but Perry tried to look at the positive aspect of the Great Danes heading into the quarterfinals after suffering a defeat.
“My message going into the locker room was: ‘Let’s not put our heads down. As we know, this team has never won four games in a row this year. We’ve only won three games in a row,’” Perry said. “So, I said, ‘Let’s look at it from the bright side. We lost tonight. We would have had to win four games in a row [to win a conference championship], do something this team hasn’t done this year. . . . Now we need to focus on winning three games in a row, something we’ve done — putting together a [winning] three-game stretch.’”
UAlbany (9-9 league, 13-17 overall) has won three games in a row on two separate occassions this season, but will need to play much better than it did Tuesday against Hartford (9-8, 11-18) against its next opponent — which will either be Hartford or New Hampshire (10-8, 15-12), and will be determined Thursday — to avoid its postseason lasting only one game.
Against Hartford on Tuesday, UAlbany never led in the final 15:50 and the Hawks maintained a multiple-possession advantage for the final eight minutes. With a career-high-matching 24 points, Jamel Horton was the only UAlbany player to record double-digit scoring — and Horton was also called for a technical foul with a minute to go. Hartford made the free throws stemming from that technical foul, a sequence that essentially sealed the win for Hartford, which scored the game’s final eight points.
“A bad decision by me. I lost my head for a little bit. I apologized for that,” said Horton, who was called for the technical foul after driving to the basket, UAlbany down six points, and missing a close-range shot as a Hartford defender made contact with him. “But I just disagreed with the no-call. It’s part of the game. I’ve got to accept that and just keep playing. That’s on me.”
For Hartford, which played without key contributors Moses Flowers and Austin Williams, David Shriver scored 25 points, and Traci Carter added 17 points and nine rebounds. Shriver made 7 of 9 3-pointers in the contest.
“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever coached,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said of Shriver. “You could see his confidence. You could see his excitement when he shoots it. Every ball looks like it’s going to go in.”
UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings said after Tuesday’s game that he had engaged in some “gamesmanship” in terms of Perry’s potential return in recent weeks, as Killings had downplayed the possibility the player could make it back this season. But while Perry had told teammates Sunday that he intended to play in UAlbany’s regular-season finale, Killings said that decision wasn’t officially made until after Tuesday’s pregame shootaround. Perry rejoined full-contact portions of practice in mid-February, and made steady progress leading into Tuesday’s regular-season finale.
“When I first started thinking it was possible was not too long after my surgery,” said Perry, a graduate student in his final season of college playing eligibility. “My recovery was a lot quicker than expected. I was [ahead of] schedule.”
Horton called Perry a “freak of nature” for being able to return so quickly following his knee procedure. Killings credited Perry’s return to his attitude.
“He’s a very selfless person. I think he loves basketball. He loves to win. He’s a winner,” Killings said. “I think he’s a committed, driven person. I mean, just watching him work over the last few weeks, he was in the gym early, getting shots, getting treatment, working at his body. I think he’s worked himself back to this spot.”
While UAlbany lost in Perry’s return, Horton said the boost from getting the 6-foot-7 forward back on the floor was a win for the Great Danes.
“We’re a better team with him out there,” Horton said.