TROY — The symmetry in the result for UAlbany men’s basketball on Saturday afternoon was both unfortunate and telling.
The Great Danes erased a 17-point deficit in the second half against Florida Atlantic at Hudson Valley Community College to tie the game with 7:54 left to play, only to suffer a late swoon as the Owls stormed away for a 73-56 win — winning by the exact same margin that UAlbany had already erased.
It was the kind of finish UAlbany’s grown accustomed to in this young season. In losses to Towson, Siena, Austin Peay and now FAU, the Great Danes have shown flashes of brilliance, only to falter in the stretch run.
“I think we get flat,” said UAlbany graduate student guard Sarju Patel, who led the Great Danes with a career-high 23 points off the bench. “And I think we’re too streaky right now. We’ve got to figure out how to close games. You can’t win a game if you can’t close a game.”
In Saturday’s loss, after a pair of Da’Kquan Davis free throws completed the comeback and tied things at 52-52, UAlbany (3-5 overall) was outscored 21-4 the rest of the way.
The tiring and shorthanded Great Danes — already without Justin Neely due to a season-ending torn ACL, UAlbany was also without Aaron Reddish due to an illness on Saturday and lost freshman guard Marcus Jackson to a shoulder injury in the first half — wilted late against an FAU (5-1 overall) team that constantly pushed the tempo, leading to a 12-0 advantage in fast break points and numerous defensive breakdowns as UAlbany wore down late.
“I think the thing that’s haunted us the most this year is execution,” UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings said, “whether it’s what we need to do offensively or defensively. We made a mistake, and really good teams make you pay for it. Now all of a sudden, it starts a run and we couldn’t climb ourselves back out of it.”
There were positives to be taken away, for sure. Patel was a brilliant spark off the bench with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Freshman center Jonathan Beagle put up his second career double-double — and first against a Division I opponent — with 12 points and 10 rebounds while dueling with FAU’s 7-foot-1 Vladislav Goldin. Sophomore guard Malik Edmead had a career-best performance of his own off the bench, constantly attacking the paint and scoring 10 points on a day where the Great Danes’ other primary shot creators were severely limited.
All of that helped UAlbany rebound from what Killings deemed a “really flat start to the game,” as the Great Danes trailed 38-26 at halftime and shot just 7 of 28 from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
But there were struggles, too. Those especially came from the trio of Davis, Gerald Drumgoole Jr. and Ny’Mire Little, who combined for eight points on 1 of 22 shooting. UAlbany also lost the rebounding battle 42-32, and allowed FAU to shoot 49.2% from the field.
Four different players finished in double figures for FAU, led by Nick Boyd’s 16 points. Michael Forrest added 12 points and four assists, while Goldin and Jalen Gaffney added 11 points apiece.
It was Goldin’s putback with 6:58 to play that put the Owls ahead for good and kickstarted a decisive 15-0 run that included a trio of 3-pointers — two in a row from Forrest, then one from Brandon Weatherspoon to punctuate the run.
“I just thought our defense broke down,” Killings said
Much of the run came from FAU’s relentless pace, pushing the ball off nearly every defensive rebound.
“If a team pushes it up, it’s hard to get set,” Patel said. “If they can blow by the first man, then you have to scramble after that. They were just spraying it, moving the ball and getting open 3s, layups and dunks.”
“They just kept it together,” Beagle said. “They kept playing their basketball. They kept playing fast.”
Up next for UAlbany is a three-game road trip, which starts Tuesday at 7 p.m. against American in Washington. The Great Danes will play six of their seven remaining non-conference games on the road, with the only home date coming Dec. 14 against LIU.