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Big Purple Growl may give Danes a boost

Big Purple Growl may give Danes a boost

University at Albany expects a huge partisan crowd at SEFCU Arena tonight when the Great Danes cel­e

University at Albany expects a huge partisan crowd at SEFCU Arena tonight when the Great Danes cel­ebrate their annual Big Purple Growl by hosting second-place Vermont in a key America East Conference game.

The men’s game, which is scheduled for 7:07 p.m., will be part of a double-header with the women’s team, which hosts Binghamton at 4:30. The program’s annual “Fer­ocious Feast” will run from 5 to 7 p.m. Big Purple Growl games

average 3,644 fans, including three sellouts. Albany has won nine of the previous 11.

“The Big Purple Growl is basic­ally a basketball winter homecoming with an opportunity to play in front of a sellout SEFCU Arena,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “It’s also an opportunity for some former basketball players and basketball supporters to circle the date and come back to town to spend the weekend. In fact, [former player] Brent Wilson is flying in from Iowa, and I’m having dinner with Brent and his fiance [Friday night].”

UAlbany (5-4, 13-9) is coming off a 77-67 loss at Boston University Thursday night. The Great Danes fell behind by as many as 16 points and rallied to within three points twice before the Terriers pulled away again.

“We were down three points with two minutes to go, and we had the ball,” said Brown. “We had our opportunities. We held them to just 3-for-15 on their first 15 possessions of the second half, and we only picked up two points against them. We hung around, and we chipped that deficit down, but outside of Will Harris and Brian Connelly, we didn’t get many contributions on offense.”

Harris scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Connelly added his first career double-double, but it wasn’t enough for the Danes.

“We shot too many three-pointers in the game,” Brown said. “We were only 5-for-21, and a couple were late in the game. That’s too many threes for us. Plus, we were only 6-for-12 from the line. We’ve been pretty good at the free-throw line this year, but we haven’t gotten there as much as I would like. In conference play, it’s all about getting as many baskets as possible. We have to take better shots.”

In the first meeting against Vermont, Albany won, 82-77, at UVM’s Patrick Gym. Freshman point guard Anthony Raffa scored 22 points, and Harris added 20. Just as important, the Danes — especially 6-foot-11 junior center Brett Gifford — held high-scoring Marqus Blakely to 11 points.

“I’d probably venture to say that Blakely will score more than 11 points against us this time, but the big thing is to make him earn all of his points,” said Brown. “We can’t let him get highlight-reel dunks off offensive rebounds or putbacks. We’ve got to make him work for everything he gets. We’ve got to keep him off balance by double-teaming him one possession, maybe crowding him the next and then mixing in a zone here and there.”

Vermont (7-3, 16-7) is led by Blakely, who was last year’s America East Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He is averaging 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while shooting 60.1 percent from the floor.

Senior point guard Mike Trimboli adds 15.4 points and 4.7 assists a game. He is fourth on Vermont’s career scoring list with 1,850 points, and is first in assists (579).

Colin McIntosh (13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Maurice Joseph (7.9 ppg) and Nick Vier (7.7 ppg) are other key players.

Harris tops the Danes in both scoring (13.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.5 rpg). Sophomore guard Tim Ambrose is next at 12.4 ppg, with Raffa third at 11.2 ppg. Connelly prod­uces 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

The Great Danes are in the middle of a three-game, five-day stretch against the league’s top three teams.

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