If the University at Albany hopes to celebrate the 16th annual Big Purple Growl with a victory over Binghamton, the Great Danes will need a reversal of fortune from their ailing backcourt.
Today’s signature event, which serves as the school’s winter homecoming, begins with a women’s game at 5, followed by the men at 7:30. The Big Purple Growl has averaged more than 4,000 fans, and has sold out (4,538) in five of the last seven years. UAlbany is 10-5 in Big Purple Growl contests.
But, despite the best non-conference start in program history, the Great Danes (5-4, 16-7) are suffering through a three-game losing streak. To make matters worse, their starting backcourt and top two scorers, Mike Black and Jacob Iati, are both struggling.
Black, a senior who tops the team at 15.3 points per game, is 12th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,375 points. But he has converted only nine of his last 57 shots from the floor, and was held scoreless for the first time since his freshman season Tuesday against Stony Brook.
“I’m just missing shots,” said Black. “I’ve got to give the defenses a lot of credit because they’ve been packing it in on me. I have had to shoot a lot of contested shots, and I haven’t been able to get any easy baskets. But I know I’m going to come around. I’m a good shooter. I can’t pout about it.”
Meanwhile, Iati, a fifth-year senior who gave up a chance to become the team’s graduate-assistant coach and returned for a final year of eligibility instead, is also having difficulties. Both of his Achilles tendons are hurting, and he also has a sore back. He hasn’t been practicing since mid-December, and as a result, his conditioning has suffered.
“I’m not one for excuses,” said Iati, a three-point specialist whose average has dipped to 12.5 ppg. “I haven’t practiced a lot, and the condition got worse. I feel winded very quickly when I come into games. Now, I’m trying to practice again. I think that’s the way to get my conditioning back. I’m not looking for any sympathy. I came back this year to win a championship. I think I’m starting to feel a little better.”
It was suggested by UAlbany head coach Will Brown after the Stony Brook loss that he might have to sit Iati, but the native of York, Pa., doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“I’ve got nine games or so left in my career. Anything after that is a bonus. There is no time to be hurt,” said Iati. “I haven’t played well in the last couple of games, but I think it’s more about not being in good condition rather than about being injured. I’ll do whatever I can to keep playing now. If I can’t walk when I’m 40, who cares?. I’ve been living in the training room, and I think I’m starting to feel better. My leg would have to fall off in order for me not to play.”
After discussing the situation with Iati, Brown has agreed, at least for now, to keep Iati in the starting lineup.
“I want him to keep playing. He can help us,” Brown said. “Cutting his minutes back will help him. He can help us because he can stretch the defense. This team was built for Mike Black and Jacob Iati to be the guys for us. We just have to tweak some things.”
As far as Black is concerned, Brown is just hoping his star player’s shooting slump will end quickly.
“Teams are doing a good job of crowding Mike, but Mike still has to let his shots fly.
“Winning cures all,” Brown said. “We just need a win right now.”
UAlbany defeated Binghamton, an old SUNYAC rival, 71-59, in the first meeting Jan. 7 in Vestal. The last-place Bearcats (1-7, 3-18) are led by 6-4 freshman guard Jordan Reed (16.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and 6-5 senior guard Jimmy Gray (10.9 ppg).
The first-place UAlbany women (8-0, 17-3), the lone unbeaten team in the America East Conference, are looking to keep their momentum going.
“I know we will have a lot of alumni back to see the game, and I’ll be glad to see them,” said senior guard Ebone Henry, who became the team’s all-time leading scorer last weekend. “My freshman year, we started 0-8 in the league, and now we’re 8-0. We’ve come a long way.
“But Coach Abe [head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson] is on us every moment. She won’t let us relax. We have goals for each game. One goal is to hold the other team under their scoring average, and another goal is for us to make fewer than 12 turnovers. If we don’t make our goals, we usually have to run laps, and nobody likes to run laps.”