Senior point guard Mike Black might be the only true star for the University at Albany Great Danes, but he doesn’t take it personally when people refer to his group as a bunch of blue-collar role players.
“It’s all about personnel. We don’t look like a Top-25 mid-major basketball team, but we just play hard, and we all know our roles,” said Black.
The grind-it-out Great Danes are off to the best start in their Division I history at 8-2, but they must be careful not to get too cocky against their next opponent, as South Carolina State comes into SEFCU Arena tonight at 7 with revenge on its mind. The Great Danes humbled the Bulldogs, 83-55, on Nov. 20 in Orangeburg, S.C.
“That was probably our best shooting game of the year,” said Black. “I know we set a school record for three-pointers in that game. Hopefully, we can do that again, although it’s unlikely. Still, we have a lot of respect for them. We know they are playing a lot better right now.”
Black admits that the Great Danes’ scouting report hasn’t changed much since the first time they played the Bulldogs, but South Carolina State has definitely improved. The 4-5 Bulldogs put up a good fight against Maryland before losing to the Terrapins, 61-46, over the weekend.
“We played so well down there,” said Black. “That game, and the game we played at Washington were our best games of the year. I wish we could play like that again, but you can’t always play your best basketball.”
Black said he can’t explain why so many of UAlbany’s games this season have been decided by six points or less. Only the wins against Siena (69-56) and South Carolina State were one-sided.
“College basketball is a game of runs, and we seem to get up by
double figures quite a few times. We have to learn to keep our foot on the pedal,” Black said. “But playing and winning so many tough games definitely makes us tougher. We’re a mature group that knows how to win the close games.”
UAlbany head coach Will Brown admitted that he has concerns that his team might take the Bulldogs too lightly, but he’s taken steps against it.
“We beat them pretty good the first time,” said Brown. “Our energy was as good against them as it has been against any team this year. It will be very hard to duplicate that energy. I’m sure they [the Bulldogs] will come in here with a chip on their shoulders. They just played very well against Maryland. They are very athletic and long, they have two very good guards, and they average better than 70 points per game.
“But if you’re asking me if we’re going to overlook our next opponent, I’ll ask you what are we looking past? Our next game isn’t for another week. The players start exams right after this game, and I think it’s good playing right before the break.”
Brown said his team is smart enough to know the situation.
“We beat South Carolina State by nearly 30, and we know it. But I told our players that if they don’t play hard against this team, they will be in for a battle,” Brown said. “You can’t try to fool kids. You have to be up front with them. We haven’t looked past any team this year, but we must outrebound and outcompete all of our opponents to win.
“We are not an underdog team. It’s just that we can’t win games when we score in the 80s or the 90s. We want to be efficient, and we want to win. We don’t just roll out the ball and let our talent take over.”
Black tops the Great Danes in scoring at 17.4 points per game. He’s also the team’s top playermaker with 28 assists, although redshirt freshman Peter Hooley is right behind him with 27.
Fifth-year senior Jacob Iati produces 15.8 points per game and has connected on a team-best 34 three-pointers. Hooley and fellow Australian Sam Rowley, a 6-6 sophomore, are averaging 6.9 and 6.3 ppg, respectively, while senior power forward/center Blake Metcalf is the top rebounder at 5.6 per game.
South Carolina State has plenty of firepower with three double-digit scorers in 5-9 senior guard Khalif Toombs (15.5 ppg), 6-1 junior guard Adama Adams (14.6 ppg) and 6-11 junior post player Matthew Hezekiah (12.3 ppg).