University at Albany men’s basketball coaches and players insist that the first meeting with Vermont in Burlington earlier this month was an abstraction, and that the real Great Danes will show up in the rematch.
We’ll see if that’s good enough to finally beat the Catamounts, who seem to own the Great Danes ever since they joined the America East Conference.
UAlbany (5-2, 16-5) and Vermont (5-2, 12-7) square off for sole possession of second place in a game that will be televised on ESPN3 tonight at 7:30, following the women’s game at 5 in SEFCU Arena.
In what has become one of the Danes’ fiercest rivalries, Vermont owns a 24-8 edge in the all-time series. The Catamounts swept the home-and-home series last year, and throttled the Great Danes by 25 points in the first meeting this year at Patrick Gym.
Why can’t the Danes seem to beat the Catamounts?
“They play hard,” said UAlbany tri-captain Blake Metcalf. “They play 100 percent all the time, and they always seem to get the most out of their ability. They don’t beat themselves.”
Sophomore forward Sam Rowley said the Great Danes don’t think about the fact that they haven’t beaten the top tier of the conference over the last few seasons.
“The way we played at Vermont earlier in the season was a disappointment for us, but it’s not a big weight on our shoulders or anything like that,” he said. “We know Vermont will give us a challenge, and we’re always up for a challenge.
“Vermont is a well-disciplined team, and they always play hard,” Rowley added.
UAlbany head coach Will Brown said his team is extremely prepared for the Catamounts.
“Vermont is definitely not 25 points better than us,” he said of the first meeting. “We played poorly, and they played very well. The better team won that day. But this time, we need to be patient on both sides of the court. We never got in sync in that game, and they ended up winning the game in the first half. Our guys were shocked.”
Brown reminded everyone that UAlbany hasn’t lost two straight games all season.
“We just need to get back on track, and we usually do,” he said. “That game up there in Burlington just wasn’t us. We hadn’t played that poorly all year. We just laid an egg. But we don’t care about the name on the jersey. We want to play well in every game. I’m sure Vermont will bring plenty of people with them. I expect us to play better than we did the last time we played them, but I also expect Vermont to play well.”
UAlbany made a key lineup change right after that first meeting, inserting Rowley and Peter Hooley in the starting five and sending Metcalf and Jayson Guerrier to the bench.
“I think our individual matchups against Vermont will be solid,” said Brown.
Having a fierce rival like Vermont coming to town might be just what the doctor ordered in terms of motivation for the Great Danes, who are coming off an extremely painful loss to Boston University Wednesday night. UAlbany led that game by six points with 15 seconds left, but the Terriers knocked down two three-pointers and dominated the overtime session in en route to an 85-80 win.
“I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a team after that game,” said Rowley. “It was a pretty heart-breaking loss. I certainly would like a do-over myself on that game,” he said, pointing to the fact that it was his pass that led to a key turnover in the final seconds. “The next time, if I’m not sure about making a pass, I’m going to call for a timeout.”
Mike Black leads the Great Danes in scoring at 16.1 points per game, followed by Jacob Iati at 13.6 ppg. Black is 12th on the Great Danes’ all-time scoring list with 1,362 points.
Vermont’s probable starting lineup includes 6-foot-2 junior guard Sandro Carissimo (10.2 ppg), 6-4 junior guard Candon Rusin (8.4 pg), 6-6 junior forward Brian Voelkel (6.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg), 6-8 junior forward Clancy Rugg (11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and 6-9 freshman forward Ethan O’Day (4.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg).