TROY — After his team faltered down the stretch in Saturday’s 73-56 loss to Florida Atlantic — something that’s become a common theme early in this young season — UAlbany men’s basketball coach Dwayne Killings made it a point of emphasis in his postgame press conference that the Great Danes are still an inexperienced team that’s learning what it takes to win at the Division I level.
And that’s not just because of the team’s preponderance of freshmen and sophomores seeing heavy minutes. It’s even an issue for some of the team’s older players. Senior forward Gerald Drumgoole entered this season having played just 10 games in the previous two years, and while Da’Kquan Davis is a graduate student with four years of college basketball under his belt, they all came at the Division III level.
“We’re 317th in the country in terms of Division I experience,” Killings said. “I mean, it costs you sometimes.”
The Great Danes (3-5 overall) have faded down the stretch in four of their five losses this season. It’s been a particular problem in the team’s last two setbacks, with a crucial 13-0 run dooming UAlbany in last Monday’s loss to Austin Peay and a game-closing 21-4 stretch sealing the loss against FAU after the Great Danes had rallied from a 17-point deficit to tie the game with eight minutes to play.
It’s a problem the team will try to fix starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. when they head to Washington to visit American for the start of a three-game road trip that will also include a New England swing against UMass on Dec. 5 and Providence on Dec. 10.
Killings certainly isn’t the only one frustrated with the way UAlbany is struggling to close out games.
“When we were playing our style of basketball, we were winning,” freshman center Jonathan Beagle said. “We’ve got to figure it out ourselves. Indviidually, we’re all getting better, but as a team, we have to build chemistry and play together more.”
“It’s been the same lesson in three of the five D1 games we’ve played,” graduate student guard Sarju Patel added. “They’ll go on like a 15-0 run, and we’ve got to figure out how to stop those runs.”
Present on UAlbany’s bench on Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College was someone that Killings is hopeful can help develop that winning edge in his team. Mental health coach Powell Cucchiella, the founder of Positively Elite, has been working with the Great Danes.
“Just trying to instill confidence in our guys, because they haven’t been in those moments,” Killings said. “Gerald Drumgoole hasn’t played in two years. Our sophomore class, obviously, they’re going into a bigger role. So, we’re just trying to help them through these moments.”
Beagle said one of UAlbany’s main problems during their stretch-run struggles has been a failure to maintain a favorable tempo.
“When we’re moving the ball, playing in transition and we play fast, we’re really good,” the Hudson Falls native said. “When we slow the ball up, we’re not. That’s not our type of basketball.”
Ultimately, Killings is confident the Great Danes will find the right formula late in games, even as the team continues to deal with a lack of depth. In addition to star sophomore Justin Neely’s season-ending torn ACL, the team missed sophomore forward Aaron Reddish for the FAU game due to illness, and freshman guard Marcus Jackson left Saturday’s game after injuring his right shoulder just minutes into a game in which the Amsterdam native received his first collegiate start.
“The games come down to winning and losing, and who’s going to score,” Killings said. “A lot of it is just guys stepping up, and I believe in our guys. They will. They need some of these experiences. It stinks to come here on a Saturday afternoon and lose, but we need experience to be able to grow from it.”