The last time out, the UAlbany men’s basketball program produced what head coach Dwayne Killings labeled “probably our worst defensive effort of the year.”
So it’s no secret that the Great Danes will need to be much better at 7 p.m. Monday night if they’re going to be competitive at Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a UMass club that’s off to its program’s best start in nearly a decade. Killings made that clear to his club.
“We’re going to have to change the lineup,” Killings said after Tuesday’s 26-point loss to American. “What I said to [the players] is everything’s up for grabs.”
UAlbany allowed American to make 71.4% of its shots from the field, one of the worst marks this season for a Division I defense. While the Great Danes have struggled to score with consistency this season, their defensive woes have stuck out. Through Saturday’s games across the country, UAlbany’s defense ranked No. 328 in the country in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com’s database, a steep drop from last season’s rank of No. 172.
“We have to be more physical, we have to be tougher and more committed on defense,” Killings said. “That’s going to be really, really important for us.”
That’s true for any game moving forward, but especially against UMass. While the Great Danes are 3-6 on the season, with two of those wins against non-Division I programs, UMass is off to its program’s best seven-game start since the 2013-14 season. With Frank Martin in his first season as head coach, UMass is 6-1 and has won its last five games. UMass’ lone loss came against Towson, which also beat UAlbany earlier this season.
Leading UMass on the court this season has been senior Noah Fernandes who has averaged 11.4 points per game and Matt Cross at 10.2. Gerald Drumgoole Jr. has averaged 13.2 points per game to lead UAlbany, which has also received 10.6 points and 7.7 rebounds from rookie Jonathan Beagle.
Monday’s game represents a homecoming for Killings, who grew up in Amherst and spent time around the men’s basketball program as a ball boy and a camper at the university where his dad Sam worked for decades.
The contest also starts a particularly tough stretch of games that concludes the non-conference season for the Great Danes. Included in UAlbany’s six remaining non-conference games are road contests at UMass and Loyola Chicago of the Atlantic 10, Providence of the Big East and Virginia of the ACC.
UAlbany starts America East play Dec. 31 against New Hampshire.
Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.