Adding another scoring option to an already effective offense will make the University at Albany basketball team an even tougher opponent when the conference season begins this week.
Junior forward Luke Devlin continued his recent resurgence with 15 points off the bench, including 7-for-7 from the free-throw line, to spark the Great Danes to a 57-50 victory over Brown in a non-conference game Monday afternoon at SEFCU Arena.
The Great Danes, who open the America East Conference schedule Wednesday against University of Maryland Baltimore County, improve to 11-3, their best non-conference record in program history. Brown, from the Ivy League, falls to 4-7.
After a dismal first-half shooting performance by both teams, the Great Danes broke away from a 19-19 deadlock at intermission with help from their bench. UAlbany outscored Brown’s bench, 18-0, with Devlin leading the way. The 6-foot-8 native of Sydney, Australia, had been struggling with his shot all season until he broke out with 13 points last Friday against Navy. Even after that effort, he was averaging just 2.2 points and 9.9 minutes per game entering the Brown matchup.
“Luke is a good player,” said UAlbany fifth-year senior Jacob Iati, who led the Danes with 16 points. “When you don’t make shots, it becomes mental at every level of basketball. But this is the real Luke Devlin that you saw tonight. He takes charges, rebounds and plays good defense.”
“This definitely feels good to finally contribute,” said Devlin, who was a starter his first two seasons, but has been relegated to the bench this year. “After the Navy game, I wanted to build on that performance. I was trying to stay positive.”
Not only did Devlin draw a pair of Brown charges, but he also made a steal and was the key UAlbany player at the free-throw line, as the Great Danes made 20 of 27 foul shots, compared to just seven of 13 for the Bears.
“Credit [volunteer coach] Don Bassett with me making those free throws. We’ve been working a lot on some drills,” said Devlin, who was 6-for-6 at the line in the final 5:43.
Both teams struggled in the first half, with Brown shooting just 30 percent and UAlbany connecting on just 29.6 percent from the floor.
The tempo picked up in the second half. UAlbany rolled out to a 40-34 lead when Devlin converted a three-point play with 11:56 left.
UAlbany had chances to pull away, but center John Puk missed a dunk shot and another short layup attempt, while Tucker Halpern began to find the range from three-point territory for Brown.
When Devlin sank a pair of foul shots with 5:43 left, the Danes held a 49-42 cushion, but Brown stormed back behind five points from Halpern to slice the deficit to 49-48 with 3:01 on the clock.
A short turnaround jumper by Halpern pulled Brown within two, 52-50, with 1:28 to go, but the Danes clinched the game at the line. Devlin made four free throws, Mike Black sank two more and Peter Hooley was 1-for-2 with 21.8 seconds left. Matt Sullivan, who finished with 16 points for Brown, misfired on three straight perimeter shots.
“I thought it was a case of two teams that were both doing a pretty good job defensively in the first half, but it came down to the fact that UAlbany had more possessions and second-chance scoring opportunities,” said Brown coach Mike Martin. “We both had about the same amount of field-goal attempts, but UAlbany got to the line much more than we did.”
Brown held Iati and Black to a combined 10 points in the first half, but the Danes made some adjustments.
“They [the Great Danes] moved their ball-screen locations in the second half, and we didn’t do a good enough job on Black at the end,” Martin said.
“I think UAlbany is extremely well coached, and they are sound defensively. They have two main guys and a lot of guys who buy into their roles.”
“The first half was really ugly,” said Black, who finished with 14 points and five assists. “I was scratching my head. But Brown tries to play their tempo. In the second half, we pushed the ball more.
“It feels good to be 11-3, but the season is not over,” Black added. ‘It’s all about what we do in the conference.”
Although UAlbany shot just 32.7 percent from the floor and made only three three-pointers, head coach Will Brown was pleased with his team’s effort.
“This team finds a way to win. We made more free throws than they [the Bears] attempted, and that ended up being the key,” Brown said.
“We’ve had a different player step up for us each game. Luke played 20-plus minutes in both the Navy and Brown games, and he played well both games. He’s not taking so many three-point shots, and instead he’s shooting more 12-to-15 foot jumpers. He takes charges and cleans up our messes on the defensive end. He makes winning plays.”
Halpern led the short-handed Bears with 18 points.
Kuakumensah 2-5 1-2 5, Halpern 7-12 0-0 18, Maia 34 1-6 7, Sullivan 5-16 5-5 16, McGonagill 2-11 0-0 4, Sharkey 0-3 0-0 0, Ponticelli 0-0 0-0 0, Schmidt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-51 7-13 50.
Metcalf 1-1 0-0 2, Guerrier 1-5 0-0 3, Puk 2-6 0-0 4, Iati 5-13 4-4 16, Black 4-11 6-10 14, Evans 0-0 1-2 1, Devlin 4-8 7-7 15, Hooley 0-4 1-2 1, Rowley 0-2 1-2 1, Page 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 17-52 20-27 57.
Halftime: UAlbany 19, Brown 19. Three-point goals: Brown 5-18 (Halpern 4-7, Sullivan 1-6, McGonagill 0-3, Sharkey 0-2),
UAlbany 3-15 (Guerrier 1-3, Iati 2-7, Black 0-1, Hooley 0-2, Page 0-2). Rebounds: Brown 32 (Maia 7), UAlbany 39 (Puk 6). Assists: Brown 7 (McGonagill 3), UAlbany 9 (Brown 5). Personal fouls: Brown 21, UAlbany 14. Fouled out: Kuakumensah. Officials: John Hughes, Bill McCarthy, Carl Luciano. Attendance: 2,432.