First, the bad news. With five straight losses and only four wins in 11 all-time meetings in Durham, University at Albany doesn’t have fond memories of University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.
But the good news is that the 3-1, 14-4 Great Danes have never played the Wildcats before with sophomore forward Sam Rowley in the starting lineup.
Look for Rowley and the new-look Great Danes to change their fortunes in tonight’s America East Conference game.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Sydney, Australia, native has recorded back-to-back double-doubles in his first two collegiate starts. Rowley scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds at Binghamton and then followed up that performance with 10 points and 13 rebounds against Maine Saturday night at SEFCU Arena. Rowley is averaging 11.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in four conference games.
“Sam has played well all season,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “He did a great job coming off the bench, but we had been getting off to slow starts. Jayson Guerrier wasn’t making any shots, and Blake Metcalf wasn’t scoring, either. Teams were clamping down on Mike [Black] and Jacob [Iati]. When we inserted Sam and Peter Hooley into the lineup, we got two aggressive offensive players who both attack the basket. They attack the rim.”
Brown likes the fact that Rowley, especially, gives the Danes some inside scoring punch to complement his starting backcourt of Black and Iati, who are averaging 16.2 ppg and 14.2 ppg, respectively.
“Rowley gives us a presence up front,” said Brown of the former rugby player. “He’s a tough matchup because he is so strong. He can put the ball on the floor, as well. He helps us manufacture offense, because he gets to the basket. You don’t know when he’s going to shoot, where he’s going to shoot from, or how he’s going to shoot it. A lot of big guys, you know what their favorite shot is, like a jump hook. He’s smaller than most of the players he’s guarding, but he usually does a great job of arching his back, and he creates enough space to get his shots off. That combination of strength and creativity is something that most big guys don’t have. He’s strong, and he’s crafty.”
Although Rowley often gives up a few inches on other power forwards, he surprises his opponents with his muscle.
“If you watch him rebound the ball, he holds off guys with one hand and rebounds with the other,” said Brown. “When he gets the ball down low, he takes his shoulder and sticks it into you just enough to get the edge. He’s been very good for us, averaging a double-double in conference play. Hopefully, he can continue that kind of production for us.”
Rowley joins Black, coming off a career-best 28 points against Maine, Hooley (7.3 ppg), Iati and 6-10 center John Puk (5.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) in the starting lineup. The Great Danes have won five of their last six games.
UNH (0-3, 4-11) is led by 6-6 senior forward Ferg Myrick, who produces 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The Wildcats also have three other double-figure scorers in 6-6 junior forward Patrick Konan (11.4 ppg), 6-4 senior guard Chandler Rhoads (10.7 ppg) and 6-10, 240-pound redshirt junior center Chris Pelcher (10.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg), an Albany Academy graduate who spent two seasons at Iona before transferring.
“UNH still shoots the three, but they are very physical defensively, and they rebound the ball well,” said Brown. “They’ve been struggling, but mostly because they’ve been inconsistent shooting the ball. Every one of their perimeter players is shooting 38 percent or less from the floor. That tells you something. They don’t get a lot of open shots.”
Brown said the Danes’ focus will be to make the Wildcats work for all of their points.
“We’ve got to make sure we limit their easy baskets. They are the kind of team that if you turn the ball over, that can lead to an easy basket. We also don’t want to give them offensive rebound baskets, and we don’t want to send them to the line. They are very good, defensively, but if they struggle shooting the ball, they can get deflated. The big thing is that we’ve got to make them take contested shots,” Brown said.