Mike Black has a broad back, and he can carry the Great Danes when they need him the most.
The senior point guard poured in a career-high 28 points — including 16 in the first half when he scored more than half of his team’s total — to spark University at Albany to a 76-63 victory over Maine in an America East Conference men’s basketball game Saturday night at SEFCU Arena.
Black’s previous best point total was 26, which also came against the Black Bears two years ago.
“I love playing against these guys. I wish I could play against them all the time,” said Black with a chuckle. The Chicago native added four assists, two steals and four rebounds in 33 minutes.
“I know I was feeling it tonight, but I didn’t know how many points I had until the guys told me in the locker room after the game,” Black said. “I was frustrated in the Binghamton game, and I was trying to get my swagger back.”
UAlbany was concerned about Maine’s tall and physical backcourt, but it was the 6-foot Black who caused the Bears plenty of problems.
“Mike Black is the best point guard in the league,” praised UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “He wasn’t shooting well over his last three games, and he was thinking too much. He was hoping his next shot was going in. Even good players start thinking too much when the ball isn’t going in the basket. He needs to stay aggressive. I thought he carried us in the first half, and we got balance in the second half. He definitely had that swagger about him tonight.”
Maine head coach Ted Woodward stopped short of calling Black the best point guard in the league, but he admitted that Black was definitely the key piece in the Great Danes’ successful puzzle.
“Mike’s been a great player in this league for years. There’s no secret that he’s one of the keys to their success,” said Woodward. “Great players make smart coaches. He’s strong, he’s quick and he’s versatile. He gets the job done, and he gets to the line. He’s great in transition, and he can shoot off the dribble.”
Black led the Great Danes to a 31-29 halftime lead, but he got plenty of help in the second half, when sophomore Sam Rowley and senior Jacob Iati made major contributions. Rowley, inserted into the starting lineup earlier this week at Binghamton, recorded his second straight double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Iati finished with 14 points, including 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range and 5-for-6 from the line.
“It feels great to contribute to a win like that,” said Rowley.
“Sam was outstanding in the second half,” said Brown. “His game is unorthodox. He takes many shots off-balance. But I like his toughness. He doesn’t seem to play well until he gets hit hard by someone. We needed his toughness out there.”
UAlbany also got a big lift from junior transfer Gary Johnson, who took a great feed from Black on the fast break, slammed the ball through the rim and converted the three-point play to help the Danes build a 50-39 lead with 11:21 remaining. The crowd went crazy.
“I was just waiting my turn,” said Johnson, who played only 41 minutes previously and scored just six points all year until Saturday night.
“I was told to be ready just in case because Maine is a very athletic team. Mike Black and Jacob Iati tried to keep me calm when I came into the game. I got to be the X-factor.”
The Great Danes begin a two-game road swing at New Hampshire Wednesday and continue it at Hartford next Saturday before returning home to play Boston University Jan. 23.
Mesghna 2-8 0-1 5, Fraser 6-12 2-2 16, Allison 3-4 0-1 6, Pollard 6-12 3-4 15, Edwards 6-17 2-4 16, McAllian 0-1 0-0 0, Lawton 2-3 0-0 4, Cato 0-1 0-0 0, Gloger 0-3 1-2 1. Totals: 25-61 8-14 63.
Hooley 2-9 4-6 9, Rowley 5-9 0-1 10, Puk 1-3 4-4 6, Iati 3-8 5-6 14, Black 9-17 7-8 28, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Devlin 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 1-2 1-1 3, Metcalf 1-2 2-4 4, Guerrier 1-2 0-0 0. Totals: 23-53 23-30 76.
Halftime: UAlbany, 31-29. Three-point goals: Maine 5-20 (Mesghna 1-6, Fraser 2-3, Pollrd 0-3, Edwards 2-6, McAllian 0-1, Cato 0-1); UAlbany 7-16 (Hooley 1-4, Iati 3-6, Black 3-5, Guerrier 0-1). Rebounds: Maine 37 (Allison 10), UAlbany 37 (Rowley 13). Assists: Maine 6 (Allison 2, Lawton 2); UAlbvany 11 (Black 4). Personal fouls: Maine 21, UAlbany 11. Fouled out: Allison. Technical fouls: Mesghna, Black. Officials: Jim Haney, James Slattery, Darren Moran. Attendance: 2,949.