University at Albany tried to pitch a shutout early, but the Great Danes wound up making things interesting at the end Wednesday night at SEFCU Arena.
After opening the game with an 18-0 run, the Great Danes fought turnover problems against full-court pressure, but still held off the Saint Francis Terriers, 77-73.
It was the fourth straight victory for UAlbany, which at 7-2 is off to its best start in the Division I era.
“We did what we needed to do to win,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “We’re not going to impress anybody. The game after the Siena game is always tough for us, whether we win or lose.”
“The press got to us sometimes, but we still won.” said senior point guard Mike Black, who poured in 21 points. “It was a learning experience. I’m sure we’ll work against pressure in practice [today].”
“There was no sense of panic,” added fifth-year senior Jacob Iati, who added 20 points. “I think all these close games will help us as the season goes along. Winning these close games shows we have the potential to be a good team.”
Using double-teams and full-court pressure, the Terriers fought all the way back to take their only lead of the game, 39-38, on a spinning layup by Kevin Douglas with 16:37 left.
But Iati drilled one of his four three-pointers to put the Danes back on top, 41-39.
“When they took that first lead, we knew we had to come right back at them. You have to have the confidence to make big plays,” Iati said.
UAlbany eventually pulled away again for a 63-52 advantage with 8:32 to go, but the Terriers weren’t done yet. Back-to-back threes by Ben Mockford and consecutive layups by Jalen Cannon cut the Danes’ lead to 66-64 with 1:56 remaining.
Another Iati three expanded UAlbany’s lead to 69-64, but Travis Nichols sank a pair of free throws to cut the margin back to 69-66.
Peter Hooley hit one of two free throws with 39.7 seconds remaining, but Mockford buried a long three-pointer just four seconds later to make it a one-point lead once again.
The Danes took a 75-70 advantage when Jayson Guerrier made two foul shots with 9.4 seconds left. After Mockford drained another long three-pointer, Iati sealed the win with two free throws.
“I thought we showed some heart,” said Saint Francis head coach Glenn Braica. “They [the Danes] are a good team. They beat Washington and Siena. But I’m proud of my team. I’m not happy we lost, but I’m happy we didn’t quit. The press got us going.”
Blake Metcalf was a force on the boards for UAlbany with 13 rebounds. UAlbany outrebounded Saint Francis, 37-27, and also made 23 of 43 shots from the line to help offset their season-high 18 turnovers.
“It feels good to be 7-2,” said Metcalf. “I was here when we were 7-25. But we’re still 0-0 in the conference, and that’s when the games get important.”
Brown said the Danes’ huge early lead didn’t help matters.
“I would rather have an 18-point lead in the second half,” he said. “They [the Terriers] take tough shots, and they make tough shots. We’ve got to do a better job of attacking pressure. Teams are trying to speed us up so we have less time to run our halfcourt offense.”
With Saint Francis missing its first 15 shots from the floor, the Danes rattled off 18 straight points to take control, but the Terriers clawed back to slice the deficit to 25-22 with 4:37 remaining before intermission before UAlbany pulled away again for a 35-26 halftime edge.
“I like Albany. They are a good team,” said Braica. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They are good shooters, and they have two good guards who can handle the ball. Mike Black is very tough to guard, because he’s not a prototype point guard. He can score in several different ways. I think they have a chance to be a very good team this season. They know their roles, and I think they have excellent chemistry.”
Hooley added nine points and four assists for UAlbany, which travels to Colgate on Saturday.
Nichols finished with 21 points, and Mockford and Cannon chipped in with 18 and 11 for the 2-4 Terriers of the Northeast Conference, who won 19 games last year.
SAINT FRANCIS (73)
Cannon 4-7 3-5 11, Douglas 3-7 0-0 6, Jones 1-4 0-0 3, Mockford 6-14 0-0 18, Johnson 4-10 1-2 9, Santavenere 1-5 0-0 3, Nichols 8-12 2-2 21, Isailoic 0-3 0-0 0, Calloway 1-2 0-2 2, Milk 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-64 6-11 73.
Metcalf 3-4 0-0 6, Guerrier 1-5 3-4 6, Puk 2-2 1-2 5, Iati 5-9 6-6 20, Black 6-13 5-8 21, Evans 2-2 2-3 8, Devlin 0-0-0 0, Hooley 3-4 3-4 9, Rowley 1-4 0-0 2, Wiegmann 0-0 -0 0. Totals: 23-43 20-27 77.
Halftime: UAlbany, 35-26. Three-point goals: St. Francis 11-28 (Douglas 0-3, Jones 1-2, Mockford 6-12, Santavenere 14, Nichols 3-4, Isailovic 0-3); UAlbany 11-17 (Guerrier 1-2, Iati 4-7, Black 4-6, Evans 2-2). Rebounds: St. Francis 27 (Cannon 7), UAlbany 37 (Metcalf 13). Assists: St. Francis 16 (Jones 6), UAlbany 15 (Hooley 4). Personal fouls: St. Francis 23, UAlbany 16. Fouled out: Rowley. Officials: Gary Prager, Doug Aprahamian, Carl Luciano .Attendance: 2,542.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Bob Weiner at 395-3147 or email@example.com. Read his take on UAlbany basketball anytime by checking out the Division I blog at www.-dailygazette.com/weblogs/weiner.