Brian Connelly waived his index finger to the crowd. Jerel Hastings kept sneaking a peak at his mother, Beverly, who flew in from Texas Friday night to help celebrate Senior Day.
Both seniors won’t forget their final regular-season game at SEFCU Arena, as each played a major role in the University at Albany’s 80-69 victory over Maine Sunday afternoon.
The win not only snapped a five-game losing streak, but it moved the Great Danes (6-8, 14-13) into a three-way tie for fifth with Maryland- Baltimore County and New Hampshire in the America East Conference standings.
Hastings, a 6-foot-5 swingman from Dallas, scored a career-high 19 points and added a career-best 10 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass, while Connelly, a 6-8 forward from Camden Catholic in Audubon, N.J., added 15 points. Along with sophomore Tim Ambrose, who poured in a game-high 27 points, the senior duo made sure their special day wouldn’t be spoiled by the Black Bears.
“I wish every home game was Senior Day,” said Connelly. “But really, it wasn’t so much that it was Senior Day that got us going. We knew we only had three games left. We were in a slump, and we were trying to get ourselves in the best possible position for the America East Conference tournament.”
“This win came out of how hard we prepared in practice,” said Hastings, who scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. “Practice was very tough this week. This was won in practice.”
Maine (4-10, 9-18) dominated most of the first half, rolling out to a 21-12 lead on Junior Bernal’s three-point play with 11:53, and taking a 34-25 lead on Troy Barnies’ put-back basket with 3:15 left in the half.
But the Great Danes scored the final 10 points of the half to go into the locker room with a 35-34 lead.
“The seniors did a good job of getting us going,” said Albany head coach Will Brown. “I think getting that lead at the half was important, psychologically, for us.”
Albany jumped out to a 44-37 lead on an Ambrose trey that kissed off the glass, but Maine battled back once more and took a 56-52 advantage on a Barnies layup with 1:32 left.
That’s when the Danes took control of the game. They used a 12-0 run to open a 64-56 lead, and following a put-back basket by Sean McNally, Albany scored eight straight points to pull out to a 72-58 advantage with 3:53 left.
Albany secured the victory on the line.
“The kids needed that more than I did,” said Brown, who was especially pleased with how his seniors stepped up to the challenge.
“I’ve said it all year that the guys that started for us aren’t strong with perimeter defense. Jerel brought his usual defensive intensity, but he was also aggressive offensively, and didn’t settle for jump shots.
After the first couple of possessions, we were determined to get better shots.
“We were taking more pride valuing the ball, and we weren’t making as many high-risk, high- reward plays. We were more patient and fundamentally sound today. It was nice to see them huddle up with a sense of urgency without me having to tell them to.”
“”We’ve been in this situation before, and we knew we had to just keep playing,” said Ambrose about the Danes’ early-game deficit. It’s a great feeling to finally win a game. We haven’t won in a while.”
Maine coach Ted Woodward said he wasn’t surprised by Albany’s effort.
“Albany did a great job. They were huge in the offensive rebounding department. Hastings got six offensive rebounds himself. No matter who they put in the lineup, that guy was going to rebound. I thought their seniors did a good job for them.”
Maine was paced by Bernal with 16, and Barnies and McNally with 15 points apiece.
Albany, which played the game without starting point guard Anthony Raffa, who sat out with a toe injury, closes out the regular season with road games at New Hampshire Thursday and at UMBC Sunday.
“If we win our next two games, we can climb into fifth place. We want to finish as high as we can,” said Brown.
McNally 4-10 6-6 15, Peay 0-1 0-0 0, Rogers 0-1 0-0 0, Socoby 3-5 1-2 9, McLemore 5-13 0-0 14, Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Barnies 7-11 0-0 15, Bernal 6-7 4-5 16, Chetinov 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-49 11-13 69.
Hastings 6-9 7-8 19, Connelly 6-11 3-4 15, Covington 0-0 3-4 3, Johnson 1-5 0-2 3, Ambrose 9-21 6-7 27, Allen 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 2-7 0-0 4, Gifford 2-2 5-6 9. Totals: 26-57 24-31 80.
Halftime: Albany 35-34. Three-point goals: Maine 8-18 (McNally 1-2, Rogers 0-1, Socoby 2-3, McLemore 4-7, Martin 0-1, Barnies 1-4); Albany 4-13 (Hastings 0-1, Johnson 1-3, Ambrose 3-5, Allen 0-2, Harris 0-2). Rebounds: Maine 26 (McNally 8); Albany 34 (Hastings 10). Assists: Maine 12 (Rogers 3, Socoby 3), Albany 20 (Johnson 6). Total fouls: Maine 23, Albany 14. Fouled out: Socoby. Officials: Paul Faia, Jack Sweeney, John Gill. Attendance: 2,463.