It could have been a lot easier for the University at Albany basketball team if it had played a little smarter down the stretch.
The Great Danes owned
21-point leads on several occasions, but had to fight off the pesky Bryant Bulldogs’ comeback to post their first win of the season, 76-67, Wednesday night at the Chace Athletic Center.
After back-to-back losses to Big East teams to start the season, the Great Danes thought they would have a much easier time against Bryant, which was playing its first game at the Division I level.
Sophomore Tim Ambrose matched his career high with 24 points and added eight rebounds and three steals to spark the 1-2 Great Danes, who were defeated by Villanova and DePaul.
The Danes were up, 52-31, with 12:59 to go on a Billy Allen tip-in, but Bryant slowly started getting back in the game when the Danes not only missed some shots, but also turned the ball over.
Brett Gifford’s three-point play with 6:15 left gave the Great Danes a 64-47 lead, but then the Bulldogs really turned up the heat.
Chris Birrell and Barry Latham began to connect from three-point range, and all of a sudden, the Bulldogs cut their deficit to 70-61 with 1:31 to go.
Albany then held on at the free throw line, with Jerel Hastings and Allen sinking two foul shots apiece in the final 80 seconds.
Albany held a 37-31 edge in rebounding, and its bench outscored Bryant’s, 32-15.
“Thank God, it’s over,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “We only had 24 hours to prepare for this team after playing Villanova and DePaul over the weekend. We knew it would be a tough matchup and a big night for Bryant. We knew they would come out with a lot of energy for their first Division I game.
“We came out flat in the first half. My biggest disappointment was that after we got up by 20, we lost our focus in the last 10 minutes.”
Although Ambrose got into early foul trouble and hardly played against DePaul, Brown gave him plenty of minutes against Bryant, and it paid off. “I want him to play relaxed. He did a good job tonight,” said Brown.
“The two Big East schools we played were more physical and stronger. You couldn’t overpower them or outmuscle them,” said Ambrose.
“I knew Ambrose was a very athletic player,” said Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. “Even though he’s smaller, he had an athletic advantage over our players.”
Freshman guard Anthony Raffa added nine points and three assists. He also dove over the press table twice trying to grab loose balls.
“The ball was in the air, and I was just trying to get it,” he said with a smile. “This feels pretty good as a freshman to get my first collegiate victory.”
Ten players played at least 11 minutes for the Great Danes, who open the home season Saturday night against Central Connecticut State.
“Albany is a very talented team,” said O’Shea. “From a talent standpoint, they’re at the top of their league, no question. It’s interesting that we played Albany in our first Division I game, because they went through the same process, moving up from Division III to Division I, about 10 years ago.
“This is a big deal for this university. I’m looking forward to a time when every game fills the gym.”
The lead see-sawed for the first 10 minutes of the opening half. The Great Danes went ahead, 16-12, on an Ambrose layup with 11:45 until intermission, and following Nick Pontes’ driving layup, the Bulldogs trailed, 19-16.
But UAlbany outscored the Bulldogs, 20-9, the rest of the half.
Raffa scored seven consecutive points to help the Great Danes open a 26-18 advantage, and Ambrose turned a steal into a dunk two minutes later. A pull-up jumper by Scotty McRae gave UAlbany a
Bryant bounced back on a pair of free throws and a layup by
Cecil Gresham, but Ambrose closed the half with seven of the next nine points as the Great Danes stretched their lead to 39-25 at the half.
Latham topped Bryant with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Birrell and Gresham scored 12 points apiece for the Bulldogs.
Harris 1-4 1-3 4, Raffa 3-8 2-2 9, Ambrose 10-17 3-3 24, Connelly 2-4 0-0 4, Gifford 1-3
1-1 3, Allen 2-3 2-2 6, Hastings 1-3 2-3 4, McRae 2-4 2-2 6, Johnson 1-5 3-6 5, Barraza 3-5 0-0 9, Covington 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 27-58 16-22 76.
Wright 3-4 0-1 6, Birrell 4-6 0-0 12, Latham 7-13 3-4 20, McLean 1-2 0-0 2, Gresham 3-10 6-10 12, Lambert 1-4 0-0 3, Lyell 1-3 2-5 4, Pontes 2-7 0-3 4, LeClerc 1-1 1-2 4. Totals: 23-50 12-25 67.
Halftime: Albany 39-25. Three-point goals: Albany 6-16 (Harris 1-3, Raffa 1-2, Ambrose 1-3, Hastings 0-1, McRae 0-2, Johnson 0-1, Barraza 3-4), Bryant 9-22 (Birrell
4-6, Latham 3-7, Gresham 0-3, Lambert 1-4, Lyell 0-1, LeClerc 1-1). Rebounds: Albany 37 (Amrose 8), Bryant 31 (Latham 1). Assists: Albany 14 (Harris, Raffa, Johnson 3 each), Bryant 15 (Birrell 7). Personal fouls: Albany 20, Bryant 23. Fouled out: Gifford, Gresham, Lyell. Officials: Brian O’Connell, Joe Held, Bob Barker. Attendance: 2,167.