South Carolina State head coach Tim Carter’s staff drew up a scouting report that strongly suggested not leaving Jacob Iati open at any cost.
In the second half of Wednesday’s game, the Bulldogs failed to follow that advice.
Iati scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the final 20 minutes and matched a career best with seven three-pointers to lift University at Albany to a 70-61 come-from-behind victory at SEFCU Arena.
It was the sixth straight win for the 9-2 Great Danes, who had beaten the Bulldogs by 28 points in their first meeting earlier this season in Orangeburg, S.C. The rematch was much closer.
Senior point guard Mike Black, who scored just two points in the first half, added 18 points, four assists and three steals, while redshirt freshman guard Peter Hooley chipped in with a career-high 12 points, including 7-for-8 from the line. He also collected four assists.
Although the Bulldogs played mostly man-to-man defense against the Danes in their first meeting — when UAlbany knocked down 15 three-pointers — South Carolina State switched to a zone defense in the rematch, and it seemed to frustrate the Great Danes, who shot only 33 percent from the field and made only two three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. SCS took a 31-26 halftime lead.
But with a fired-up Iati leading the way, the Danes began to make their shots, and their confidence grew.
“We made 15 threes back on Nov. 20, and that was the difference,” said Iati. “But we knew they weren’t that bad of a team. I told our guys at halftime that if we kept playing the way we were playing, they wouldn’t like the result.”
“He’s got serious range,” said Carter. “Every team we play has a guy like Iati. He’s a catch-and-shoot guy. If you leave him open, he’ll make you pay.”
“I’m surprised he gets the amount of clean looks he does, but he’s crafty,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “He’s got a quick release and ridiculous range. For a guy like him, preparation is very important.”
Carter said his 4-6 Bulldogs played much better this time than they did last month, but they didn’t control Iati or Black in the second half.
“They’ve got two very good shooters. I thought our game plan was perfect, except in the last eight minutes of the game,” said Carter. “They hit some shots, and we didn’t hit some shots. We did a good job of defending them, but in the second half, we gave them too many looks from the perimeter. We challenged our players, because at our place, we got thoroughly embarrassed.”
But Carter said he wasn’t surprised by how well the Great Danes stormed back.
“I’ll be shocked if I don’t see them in the NCAA tournament,” he said.
South Carolina State led virtually the entire first half, but the lead switched back and forth early in the second half. The lead changed hands nine times overall
Iati buried three treys in the first three minutes to help the Danes grab a 39-37 lead, but the Bulldogs bounced back to score the next six points and led, 43-39, with 15 minutes left.
Black took over the game in one of the key stretches for the Danes. After setting up John Puk for a layup to give the Danes a 55-50 advantage, he scored the next eight points to help UAlbany take a 10-point edge, 63-53, with 5:38 to go. He made back-to-back threes and added a fast-break layup off a steal.
The Bulldogs took advantage of a couple of UAlbany turnovers to make things interesting again. A runner by Adama Adams and a three-pointer by Chasen Campbell cut the deficit to 65-61 with 1:56 remaining.
Iati then put the finishing touches on the victory with a three-pointer that put the Danes up, 68-61, with 38 seconds left.
“Give credit to South Carolina State. They made some tough shots,” said Black. “I don’t know why I played the way I did in the first half. I was trying to find myself. It was hard to get my rhythm. But in the second half, I tried to be more aggressive.”
“You had to expect them [the Bulldogs] to do something different this time,” said Brown. “They played hard and well in the first half. We got frustrated because we didn’t make shots.”
UAlbany made good use of the free-throw line, sinking 18 of 23 shots. South Carolina State was 3-for-4.
Matthew Hezekiah topped South Carolina State with 18 points and eight rebounds.
UAlbany hosts Quinnipiac on Dec. 21.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (61)
Hezekiah 9-13 0-0 18, Palmer 2-5 1-2 7, Toombs 2-8 0-0 5, Adams 4-12 0-0 8, Myers 2-6 2-2 7, Mitchell 2-4 0-0 5, Campbell 4-7 0-0 11, Youmans 0-0 0-0 0, Radovic 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 25-57 3-4 61.
Metcalf 2-4 0-2 4, Gurrier 1-5 0-0 2, Puk 4-9 1-2 9, Iati 7-14 0-0 21, Black 4-11 8-9 18, Evans 0-2 0-0 0, Devlin 0-0 0-0 0, Hooley 2-5 7-8 12, Rowley 1-3 2-2 4. Totals: 21-53 18-23 70.
Halftime: South Carolina State, 31-26. Three-point goals: SCS 8-21 (Palmer 2-3, Toombs 1-4, Adams 0-2, Myers 1-4, Mitchell 1-2, Campbell 3-5, Radovic 0-1); UAlbany 10-25 (Guerrier 0-3, Iati 7-13, Black 2-5, Evans 0-2, Hooley 1-2). Rebounds: SCS 31 (Hezekiah 8), UAlbany 36 (Rowley 8). Assists: SCS 13 (Toombs 5, Adams 5); UAlbany 11 (Black 4, Hooley 4). Personal fouls: SCS 17, UAlbany 13. Officials: Sean Hull, Kevin Ferguson, Clarence Armstrong. Attendance: 2,371.