Senior guard Mike Black is fighting through the worst shooting slump of his career, just when the University at Albany men’s basketball team needs him the most.
In his last three games, the Great Danes’ leading scorer has connected on just nine of 48 shots from the floor, and his team has dropped two of those three games, including two in a row for the first time this season.
If the 5-3, 16-6 Great Danes hope to knock off league-leading Stony Brook (6-1, 15-5) tonight at SEFCU Arena, they will need a huge performance from Black.
Black is still averaging 16 points per game, despite his shooting woes. He was 1-for-13 against Hartford, 5-for-22 against Boston University and 3-for-15 against Vermont, although he finished with 20 points against the Terriers and 13 against the Catamounts.
Undoubtedly the top all-around player for the third-place Great Danes, Black is 12th on the team’s all-time scoring list with 1,375 points. He’s also tied for seventh in career assists with 362.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Black, whose shooting percentage this season is down to .387, compared to a career percentage of .427. Fortunately for both he and the Great Danes, the Chicago native is still getting to the free-throw line often, and is shooting nearly 80 percent at the charity stripe.
“I know I’ve been putting in the work. I shoot a couple of hundred jumpers after practice every day,” Black said. “Every player goes through something like this, but I’m confident I’ll break out of it. I try not to think about it during the game, though. I’ve never had this bad of a slump ever, even back in high school. I’ve got to keep shooting with confidence. Everybody on this team knows I’m a good shooter. This team needs me to come out every night with energy. We’re playing the top of the league right now.
“The other teams in the league are doing a good job of scouting me. Sometimes, I get double-teamed. But honestly, it’s more about me missing shots. I’m expecting to break out against Stony Brook. This is a big game, because Stony Brook is in first place.”
UAlbany head coach Will Brown, a fine shooter himself in his playing days, understands Black’s plight.
“He’s our guy. He’s the most talented guy on our team, and one of the best in the league,” Brown said. “He has the green light to shoot. He watched every shot that he took the other night on film. I can’t say anything to him, because he’s putting in the effort. I feel for the kid, because he’s been going through a tough stretch. There are some shots that he’s passed up that he probably should have taken, but he needs to keep on fighting. He also needs to keep getting to the free-throw line. He needs to maintain his aggressiveness. He’s not forcing the action. He just can’t catch a break.”
Stony Brook is the third tough conference opponent in a row for the Great Danes, and it’s a team with a long history against
UAlbany. Both New York programs used to belong to the State University of New York Athletic Conference. The Seawolves lead the all-time series, 35-23, and they have won the last five meetings. It was Stony Brook that beat the Great Danes on a last-second shot during the America East Conference tournament semifinals last year in Hartford.
“Right now, they’re the best team in our league,” said Brown. “If we win, terrific, and if we don’t, we’ve got to keep plugging away. By no means is this a must-win. We’ve got to earn everything we get.”
But many of the Great Danes believe that tonight’s game is crucial.
“Mentally, we are a little down right now, after the last two games, but we forget about the losses in practice the next day,” said senior center and captain Blake Metcalf. “We hold ourselves to a higher standard this year than we have in the past. For me, it’s win or fail.
“Stony Brook is the kind of team that will play tough defense against you for 40 minutes They have so many guys who can hurt you. They go 11 deep. They are very talented and aggressive.”
“We’re all a little bit down,” said redshirt freshman guard Peter Hooley. “We knew this part of the schedule would be tough.”
“It’s a must-win game. We’ve got to get a win and grind it out,” added Black.”
Stony Brook is led by junior forward Tommy Brenton, who recorded the America East Conference’s first triple-double in a decade with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Maine. He is averaging 8.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
Junior guard Dave Coley tops the Seawolves in scoring at 12.1 points per game, followed by 6-9 freshman Jameel Warney (11.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 6-4 junior Anthony Jackson (11.3 ppg).
The Great Danes are more than a bit beat up for this matchup. Second-leading scorer Jacob Iati (13 ppg), who, like Black, has been struggling with his shooting, is also battling an Achilles’ tendon injury and hasn’t been practicing. Hooley has popped out his shoulder on several occasions and was wearing a brace Monday.