Brian Lillis no longer has a choice in the matter. The University at Albany basketball team desperately needs a leader, and Lillis has been chosen to “volunteer” his services.
The 6-foot-5 senior swingman's strength is his versatility. Lillis, the defending America East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has already stepped up his scoring load, pacing the Great Danes at 14.5 points per game. Now, the Great Danes coaching staff also wants Lillis to become a vocal leader who is not afraid of making key decisions when the game is on the line..
“We need someone to step up from within,” said Albany head coach Will Brown, whose Great Danes travel to Stony Brook Arena
tonight to take on the 1-0, 4-10 Seawolves. “And Brian Lillis is that guy. The coaching staff can't lead a team in clutch situations.
“You need your upperclassmen to take control. Brian Lillis has all the attributes that are necessary to become a vocal leader on this team. He understands the situation, and he has the skills. Brian and other older guys like Brent Wilson can no longer sit back in the back seat and let things unfold. They've got to step up and take control.”
Lillis showed he was capable of becoming Albany's go-to guy when he scored 19 of his career-high 29 points in the second half to lift the Great Danes to an 80-79 overtime victory over Vermont Sunday at SEFCU Arena.
“We knew Vermont was looking for some revenge against us, based on what happened last year,” said Brown, referring to Albany's victory over the Catamounts in the America East Conference tournament championship game in Burlington, Vt., last March. “They are a very good team, and they played very well. But our guys didn't panic when they got down, and Brian Lillis
really came on strong. I think he has finally figured out that he has to be our leader.”
Sunday's victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Great Danes, who are 1-1 in the conference and 6-8 overall.
Tonight's opponent presents a new challenge, however.
“What we're concerned about with Stony Brook is that they play virtually no man-to-man defense at all. They play almost all zone, especially 1-3-1 or 2-3. That can hurt us, because we are not really a very good perimeter-shooting team. If we don't knock down some shots, we could be in trouble,” said Brown.
On the other side of the ledger, the Seawolvers don't shoot very well themselves. Ricky Lucas, a
6-4 senior, is the top scoring threat at 13.3 ppg, while senior guard Mitchell Beauford adds 11.1 ppg. Demetrious Young, a 6-6 junior who transferred from Yuba College, paces the America East Conference in rebounding (8.6 rpg) and contributes 7.1 ppg
Michael Tyree, a 5-11 guard, and Nick Carter, son of former NBA player Reggie Carter, each produce seven points a game.
Joining Lillis in Albany's projected starting lineup are Wilson (9.5 ppg, team-best 6.1 rpg), 6-8 junior Brian Connelly (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and 6-7 junior Jimmie Covington (2.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg) up front and 6-5 junior Jerel Hastings (4.2 ppg) in the backcourt.