Neely gives UAlbany men’s basketball a boost with season debut in 74-47 win over Immaculata

UAlbany men’s basketball player Justin Neely during practice at UAlbany in Albany on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

UAlbany men’s basketball player Justin Neely during practice at UAlbany in Albany on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

After sitting out both of UAlbany men’s basketball’s preseason exhibition and the team’s season opener at Towson due to a shoulder injury, Justin Neely had to make up for lost time when he made his season debut Tuesday as the Great Danes paid a visit to Division III Immaculata.

Neely didn’t waste any time filling up the stat sheet — with plenty of good numbers, but a few he’d like to forget.

The defending America East Rookie of the Year played a team-high 21 minutes in the Great Danes’ 74-47 win in Immaculata, Pennsylvania. He led the way with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, but he also led UAlbany with eight turnovers and four fouls.

“It feels great. I’m super excited to be back on the floor with my brothers,” Neely said in a postgame teleconference with reporters. “I’ve just got to get back into the rhythm of the game. I had a lot of turnovers today, but that comes with practicing and getting back into the flow. But, I feel great.”

Neely, who averaged 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in the 2021-22 season, got the green light to play from the UAlbany training staff on Tuesday morning. 

The Miami native was the first player to check in off the bench for the Great Danes (1-1), entering with 17:45 left in the first half, and his return immediately made a difference for a club that’s started slow every time it’s taken the court this season.

“We wanted to play him as much as possible, just so we could get his wind back,” said UAlbany acting head coach Bobby Jordan, who led the Great Danes for the fourth straight outing as head coach Dwayne Killings serves a five-game suspension. “Looking at the minutes right now, he’s around where we wanted him to play — maybe a little bit more. . . . He really impacted us, especially on the offensive glass and the defensive glass.”

“He’s super-tough to guard. Especially for a guy like me that plays really well off the ball, it was great to play with [Neely] today,” said graduate student guard Sarju Patel, who finished with 11 points. “As the season goes on, we’ll build more of a better connection. That’s valuable.”

Neely was efficient as a scorer and especially impactful as a rebounder, grabbing five of his nine boards on the offensive glass as the Great Danes finished with a 42-20 rebounding advantage against the much smaller Mighty Macs.

His return meant that, for the first time this year, UAlbany had all 13 players on its roster available for action. All 13 got in the game during the first half, 11 of them scored and every player except senior forward Trey Hutcheson played double-digit minutes.

“Today was the first time that we were able to play with a full roster,” Jordan said. “Even in practice. This was the first time we had 13 guys available to practice or play in a game. I think the biggest thing for us is finding a rotation, finding a rhythm.”

The game was largely a canvas for lineup experimentation, which led to a ragged tempo and some ugly play. While UAlbany shot 51.9% from the field and had assists on 19 of its 28 baskets, the Great Danes were whistled for 23 personal fouls and Neely’s eight turnovers were endemic of a larger problem, as UAlbany turned it over 24 times as a team and blew straight past the team’s pre-game goal of limiting themselves to 10 turnovers.

“We crossed that out on the board going into halftime,” Jordan said.

“[We need to] just slow down a little bit,” Neely said. “I caught myself a bunch of times just moving too fast, trying to force the issue. We’ve got to let things come to us.”

Up next for the Great Danes is the return of the Albany Cup rivalry as they meet Siena in a neutral-site game on Saturday at 7 p.m. at MVP Arena. Killings will return to the bench for the first time this season on Saturday, before serving the final game of his suspension Monday when the Great Danes host Union at Hudson Valley Community College.

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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