Tim Ambrose saved University at Albany from a disastrous home opener Saturday night.
The barely 6-foot sophomore guard with a flair for the dramatic scored the last five points of the game, including a driving layup with 3.8 seconds left, to help the Great Danes rally past Central Connecticut State, 68-67, before a crowd of 3,241 at SEFCU Arena.
UAlbany built a pair of 18-point leads, but the Blue Devils outscored the Great Danes, 26-6, to grab a 59-57 advantage with 4:20 left.
The Blue Devils then kept edging ahead by two points, only to see the Great Danes even the score once again.
Shemik Thompson’s runner with 48 seconds remaining put Central Connecticut in front, 65-63, and the Great Danes immediately called a timeout.
With 26 seconds to go,Will Harris missed a layup that would have knotted the score. Five seconds later, Aaron Hall, who shot just 35 percent from the line last year, made a pair of free throws to give the Blue Devils a 67-63 lead.
But Ambrose, who finished with 24 points to match his career high for the second straight game, drove the lane, made the layup, was fouled and then completed the three-point play with 15.5 seconds to go, drawing the Danes to within a point.
Ambrose then stole the inbounds pass, but missed a short layup with 10.1 seconds on the clock. Freshman Robby Ptacek stepped on the end line while trying to inbound the ball with eight seconds left, and the Danes got the ball back again.
Ambrose then drove past Ptacek and canned the game-winner. The Blue Devils had a chance for a long pass to set up a final shot, but they couldn’t get it off.
“We wanted to make the fannies in the seats come back for the next one,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown about the dramatic finish. “I really don’t have any answers why we lost that big lead again. We were tired when we started losing that 22-point lead against Bryant, but that wasn’t the case tonight. I do know that Central Connecticut State switched defensively for the last 15 minutes of the game, and we didn’t react well to that.”
Brown was asked about the final play.
“We were out of timeouts, so I told our players loud enough for everyone to hear that we were going to use a line action. I told our guys to get it to Tim and get out of his way. Timmy is good, and I’m happy for him. As his basketball IQ continues to improve, his game will blossom.
“I just drove to the basket and put the shot up,” said Ambrose, who added a career-high four assists, three steals and five rebounds. “I tried to be as aggressive as I could be.”
“Timmy was a big monster out there, and I was just trying to stay out of his way,” added Harris, the University of Virginia transfer who, despite nursing an MCL sprain on his left knee, scored 18 points and added nine rebounds.
Anthony Raffa, who suffered a concussion in the Bryant game, had 11 points, while senior forward Brian Connelly chipped in with 10 points for the Danes, who evened their record at 2-2. CCSU dropped to 0-3.
Sophomore Ken Horton poured in 33 points, on 11-for-15 from the floor and 10-for-11 from the line to lead the Blue Devils. Thompson added 12 points.
CCSU head coach Howie Dickenman, whose team lost a 58-57 game at the buzzer in its previous game, was frustrated by the defeat.
“I’m proud of the way we came back,” he said. “We battled back, but then we made some senseless plays at the end. We had no answers for Ambrose. He’s a go-to guy, and go-to guys are supposed to win games.
“It was a very tough loss, a disheartening loss. But I told them that everyone contributed to our comeback, and everyone also contributed to our demise.”
UAlbany travels to Columbia Tuesday night.
CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE (67)
Palmer 0-4 0-0 0, Horton 11-15 10-11 33, Thompson 5-14 2-3 12, Ptacek 4-8 0-0 9, Seymore 1-5 0-0 2, Desmarais 0-0 0-0 0, Simmons 1-2 2-2 4, Hall 2-6 2-2 7, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-54 16-18 67.
Harris 7-11 2-2 18, Connelly 4-6 2-2 10, Gifford 1-3 0-0 2, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Ambrose 11-19 1-2 24, Allen 0-3 0-0 0, Hastings 0-0 0-0 0, Raffa 4-9 2-2 11, McRae 0-2 1-2 1, Barraza 0-3 0-0 0, Covington 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 28-59 8-10 68.
Halftime: Albany 38-29. Three-point goals: CCSU 3-14 (Palmer 0-1, Horton 1-1, Thompson 0-5, Ptacek 1-3, Seymore 0-3, Hall 1-2). Rebounds: CCSU 34 (Horton 7), Albany 30 (Harris 9). Assists: CCSU 10 (Thompson 5), Albany 12 (Ambrose). Personal fouls: CCSU 13, Albany 17. Fouled out: Thompson. Officials: Bill Laubenstein, Lionel Butler, Darren Moran. Attendance: 3,241.