For a team trying to find a path forward, the hope is that the way the UAlbany men’s basketball program ended Monday its latest double-digit loss offered some light.
“We’re learning through hard things,” UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings said after the Great Danes’ 87-73 loss to UMass at Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. “Obviously, there’s a bunch of adversity with injuries and all those things, but we’re playing a hard schedule for a reason. It’s going to prepare us for league play, and I truly believe there’s a reward on the other side of it all.”
There just hasn’t been much of one yet for UAlbany, which had to settle Monday for taking solace in how it finished a game that got away from it midway through the first half.
“I didn’t think we quit,” Killings said after a homecoming game for the Amherst native.
UAlbany (3-7) scored 23 of the game’s final 35 points in its loss to UMass (7-1), which led by as many as 27 points in the second half. The game, though, was largely over by halftime. After a competitive opening 10 minutes, UMass dominated the second 10 minutes of the half. The Great Danes were within 18-13 of UMass following a 3-pointer from Gerald Drumgoole Jr., but the Minutemen outscored UAlbany 28-8 in the final 10 minutes of the first half to take a 46-21 lead into the break.
After halftime, UAlbany was never closer than a dozen points.
With its latest loss, the Great Danes have been outscored by an average of 13.4 points per game in its outings against fellow Division I foes. Drumgoole, who led UAlbany with a game-high 20 points, said he felt the Great Danes’ effort after halftime was an example of the club “getting better,” and said that the club’s first 10 games have been “a learning experience for everyone” with the America East program.
“Later [in] the season,” Drumgoole said, “hopefully we can stack up some wins, be the team that we know we can be.”
While two of UAlbany’s wins have come against non-Division I opponents, its losses have generally come against tough squads. Monday’s win was the sixth in a row for UMass of the Atlantic 10, and the Great Danes’ Division I opponents have combined for a 41-24 record. Five of UAlbany’s eight Division I opponents currently have winning records, and three of them — including UMass — have only lost one game.
“Wins are great, but, like, I want to get challenged. You know, that’s what it’s about, for me,” Killings said of the Great Danes’ schedule. “I want to grow this program. I want to do some special things. But we need to get challenged to understand what it takes to win at a really high level.”
For UMass, Tafara Gapare’s 15 points led a balanced effort that saw five players produce double-digit scoring and eight players record double-digit minutes.
Besides Drumgoole, Jonathan Beagle had double-digit scoring for UAlbany. A freshman from Hudson Falls, Beagle had 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Monday’s contest at UMass was a special one for Killings and sophomore center Tairi Ketner.
Growing up, Killings 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. Killings later attended UMass before eventually graduating from Hampton.
“This place is home,” Killings said after Monday’s game. “I mean, I went to school here. I went to daycare here.”
For Tairi Ketner, Monday’s contest was a chance to play against the school where his dad Lari Ketner starred before a professional career that included stints with three NBA teams. Lari Ketner died of colon cancer in October 2014 at age 37, a day shy of Tairi Ketner’s 13th birthday.
“It means a lot to me to play on the same court, in the same arena, that he did,” Tairi Ketner said.
Against UMass, Tairi Ketner had eight points and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
FOULS ADDING UP
UAlbany entered Monday’s action committing the 15th-most fouls per game in the country — and the Great Danes exceeded their average against UMass.
UAlbany, which has struggled to defend without fouling throughout the season, was called Monday for 23 fouls. The Great Danes were averaging 20.8 fouls per game heading into the contest.
“We’ve kind of relented to playing a lot of zone,” Killings said of his team’s defensive problems, “but we’re trying to get our guys to be more committed to guarding the ball.”
UAlbany is now without two players for the rest of the season, as Ny’Mire Little (hip) will undergo a season-ending surgery later this month.
Justin Neely (knee) suffered a season-ending injury earlier this season. Killings said that Neely, last season’s America East Rookie of the Year, will undergo surgery Wednesday in his native Miami.
UAlbany did see Aaron Reddish (illness) return to its lineup at UMass after missing a couple games, but was still without Amsterdam native Marcus Jackson (collarbone) who Killings said will be evaluated Wednesday. Reddish had seven points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes against UMass.
Things don’t get any easier for the Great Danes.
UAlbany next plays Saturday against Providence of the Big East. Head coach Ed Cooley’s Friars are 6-3 this season and play Manhattan Wednesday before hosting the Great Danes at Amica Mutual Pavilion in Providence, Rhode Island.
Through this past weekend’s action, UMass ranked No. 128 in the kenpom.com database’s team rankings, while Providence ranked No. 75.
Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.