Scrappy Boston University, a program that has given the Great Danes fits since upgrading to Division I, will visit SEFCU Arena for the last time as a member of the America East Conference tonight at 7.
The Terriers, who own a 16-8 all-time record against the Great Danes, are moving to the Patriot League for the 2013-14 season. They will not be allowed to compete in this year’s America East Conference Championships, hosted by UAlbany for the next two seasons.
One of the pillars of the America East Conference, BU has won the Commissioner’s Cup, which honors the program with the most league championships every season, for seven straight years with 40 titles in 14 sports. In men’s basketball, the Terriers have earned seven berths into the NCAA tournament in 1959, 1983, 1988, 1990, 1997, 2002 and 2011.
UAlbany head coach Will Brown respects the Terriers’ program and understands their decision to switch conferences, although he also sees why the conference decided not to allow Boston University to compete in this year’s tournament.
“Everybody is aware of the by-laws,” said Brown. “With all the re-alignment going on in all the conferences, you have to protect yourself. When you lose a team, you have to replace it as soon as possible. I do think BU has to make a decision in their best interest.“
BU has traditionally been one of the top teams in the conference, although they are not as dominant this season, standing 3-3 in the conference and 9-10 overall.
“They shoot the ball extremely well,” said Brown. “They lead the conference in field-goal shooting and in three-point shooting. They get a lot of uncontested layups because they rush the ball down the court so quickly. That’s why their shooting percentages are so good.
“They are a little undersized, and they don’t get to the line much. That’s why we have to take advantage of our strengths by using our size and by getting to the line as much as possible.”
BU’s top player is 6-foot junior guard D.J. Irving, who scores 14.3 points per game and has connected on 32 three-point shots.
“D.J. Irving is terrific,” said Brown. “He changes gears and speeds very well. He doesn’t handle the ball as much anymore, because they’ve got Maurice Watson at the point. But both Irving and Watson are a pair of jets.”
Dom Morris, a 6-7 junior, is the key post player for the Terriers and averages 11.4 points and 6.5 rebounds. Watson, a 5-10 freshman, contributes 10.1 points a game, while 6-3 freshman John Papale, 6-7 sophomore Malik Thomas and 6-5 junior Travis Robinson have combined for 22 points and 85 three-pointers so far.
Brown was asked how important the BU game is, considering that the Great Danes, who are alone in first place after a Vermont loss Tuesday night, have had trouble in recent years beating the “elite” teams in the conference.
“I’m not sure who the elite teams are,” said Brown. “We’ve played six league games, and we’re looking to focus on BU. If you don’t respect somebody and come to play, you are going to get beat. If you are a solid team, you are supposed to win at home, but we’re not putting more value on this game than in any other one.”
The BU game is the first of four consecutive home games.
UAlbany has used strong team defense and balanced scoring to run its record to 5-1 in the league and 16-4 overall. The Danes held New Hampshire to 16 points in the first half of their game last Wednesday, and they held Hartford to 14 points in the second half of their game at the Chase Family Arena Saturday.
Despite combining for just 30 points in their last game at Hartford, senior guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati are still leading the Great Danes in scoring at nearly 16 ppg and 14 ppg, respectively. Australians Sam Rowley (8.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Peter Hooley (7.9 ppg) have made an impact since both of them started the last four consecutive games.
“I don’t worry about my scoring,” said Iati, who was held to just eight points against Hartford. “These guys [Hooley and Rowley] are playing so good, that if I’m having an off-night, I don’t mind running off screens and being a decoy.
“Teams are trying to face-guard me, etc., but if I can’t get my shot, I don’t stress out. I’ve always had confidence in myself. If I get open looks, I’ll eventually hit some. I’m always working on my shooting rhythm, so I’ll be OK.”
UAlbany continues its homestand against Vermont Saturday, Stony Brook Jan. 29 and Binghamton Feb. 2.