Some games are more meaningful than others.
If you ask University at Albany head coach Will Brown about tonight’s match against league-leading University of Maryland Baltimore County at SEFCU Arena, he’ll tell you this matchup is special for a variety of reasons.
“This is an extremely important game,” said Brown, who usually doesn’t hype one regular-season game over the others.
“The No. 1 reason it’s special is that we need some momentum
going into the America East Conference tournament. Secondly, we’ve got only two more games left in
SEFCU Arena, and it’s about time we started to play consistently at home. We really haven’t had a dominating performance at home in some time.
“Finally, UMBC needs to win just one game out of its last three to lock up the league title. This is a statement game for us. We don’t want to relinquish our league title without a fight. Psychologically, this would be a great win for us to show that we’re still the America East Conference champion until somebody knocks us off. If we can knock off the tournament favorite, it will show the other teams in the league that we have as much chance of winning the tournament again as any other team.”
Although UMBC is 10-2 in the league and 18-7 overall, Brown doesn’t believe the Retrievers are unbeatable.
“I keep stressing to our guys that it’s important to get as high a seeding as possible for the tournament. We still have a chance to take the second seed, and that would be very important because I’m not convinced that the regular-season champion is assured a home game in the conference tournament. If there is an upset along the way, the second or third seed could host the championship game, and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The Great Danes (8-5, 13-12) are third in the league standings, behind UMBC and Hartford (9-4, 15-13). Just a week ago, Vermont was in second place, but the Catamounts have slipped to fifth place at 7-6 and 12-13, while the Great Danes moved up with a pair of road victories at Vermont and Maine,
One of the reasons the Great Danes are playing so well lately is that they are finally healthy. Fifth-year senior guard Jon Iati has recovered from a broken toe, and freshman point guard Josh Martin is almost at 100 percent after a knee injury kept him out of several games in the middle of the season.
Iati showed he is back in form with a season-best 23 points in the 76-60 victory at Maine.
“Jon’s toe is better, he can get more lift on his shot, and his game preparation is a lot better also,” said Brown.
The Great Danes will need Iati to keep knocking down three-pointers because some of their other top offensive players have been slumping. Senior guard Brian Lillis has scored in double figures in 24 of his last 25 games, but his shooting percentage has been off lately. He still paces the Great Danes in scoring “(15.9 ppg), rebounding (6.3 rpg) and assists (3.0 apg), but has showed signs of fatigue, especially late in the second half.
Junior forward Brian Connelly, who has scored in double figures 15 times this season, is second in scoring (10.4 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg).
Senior forward Brent Wilson produces 9.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg. Other probable starters are 6-7 freshman center Al Turley (2.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and 6-5 guard Jerel Hastings (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
Iati, who scores 8.6 ppg, is the first guard off the bench, but the Great Danes also get backcourt production from Martin (5.8 ppg) and redshirt freshman Tim Ambrose (7.6 ppg), who scored 19 points in the win over Vermont.
The Danes have been using three post players against the bigger teams in the league. Backing up Turley are 6-7 junior Jimmie Covington (1.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and 6-11 sophomore Brett Gifford (2.0 pg, 2.0 rpg).
Although Albany has won seven of the previous 10 games in the
series with UMBC, the Retrievers won the first meeting this season, 69-65, in Baltimore.
Although the Retrievers don’t have a long bench, their starters are extremely productive. UMBC paces the conference in scoring (75.1 ppg) and three-point field goal percentage (.398).They are also second nationally in fewest turnovers per game (9.4 pg).
Although he has missed the last four games with an injury, 6-3 senior guard Brian Hodges is fourth in the league in scoring at 16.5 ppg. Ray Barboosa, a 6-2 senior who transferred from James Madison, scores 16.0 ppg, while 6-4, 230-pound Darryl Porter, a transfer from Choppin State, produces 14.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.