With just four league games remaining, the University at Albany continues to jockey for position in the America East Conference men’s basketball standings.
The Great Danes (7-5 America East Conference, 18-8 overall), who take on Hartford (7-5, 14-11) tonight at 7 at SEFCU Arena, are tied with the Hawks for fourth place in the conference standings, just one game behind Boston University. But Boston University won’t be allowed to compete in the conference tournament, because the Terriers are leaving for the Patriot League next year.
That means the Danes and the Hawks actually share third place. A victory tonight would help UAlbany solidify one of the top three spots in the tournament, hosted by the Great Danes.
“All that the top team in the league really gets is an automatic bid in the NIT, but every team really wants to go to the NCAAs,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “All eight teams that are eligible for the tournament know that they’ve got to win two games at SEFCU Arena to get an NCAA bid.
“Right now, all we want to do is improve. Obviously, we want to win every game from here on. The seeding will take care of itself. We’re focusing on getting better, especially on the offensive end. What the ramifications are of where we are in the standings right now really doesn’t matter.”
UAlbany is coming off a lackluster performance at Maine, where the Danes lost, 66-52. That game was part of a long, weather-hindered road trip that also included the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Senior guard Mike Black injured his ankle in that game and only played in the first half, but he returned to play against Maine.
“The ankle is fine, right now,” said Black, who eclipsed the 1,400-point mark for his career and is ninth on the team’s all-time scoring list with 1,413. He could move into eighth tonight by passing Barry Cavanaugh (1,414).
“We’ve had a week off, and it feels good to finally be playing back home again,” said Black. “Our last game at Maine, we got off to a slow start in the first eight to 10 minutes, and we never recovered. We have to do a better job of playing well in the early stages of the game. It seems that most of the games we’ve lost, we got off to poor starts in the first half.”
UAlbany also played poorly in the first half of their game at Hartford on Jan. 19, but they held the Hawks to just 14 points in the second half and rallied to a 56-46 victory at Chase Family Arena.
“We are well prepared for them,” said Black. “We also had a slow start when we played them, but our defense helped us out in the second half.”
“We defended extremely well in the second half the last time we played them,” said Brown. “Two of our Aussies [Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley] carried us offensively, but it was our defense that won that game.
“Hartford really spaces the floor well and forces you to defend them. They also have a player in [Mark] Nwakamma who I feel is a first-team all-conference player.”
Nwakamma, a 6-foot-6 sophomore swingman, tops the Hawks in both scoring (15.4 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg). Yolonao Moore II, a 6-2 sophomore guard, adds 10.2 ppg. Six-foot-6 sophomore Nate Sikma (6.6 ppg), 6-1 sophomore Corbon Wroe (2.4 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore Jamie Schneck (3.3 ppg) round out the starting lineup.
Black leads the Great Danes in scoring at 15.0 ppg, while fifth-year senior Jacob Iati is next at 12.4 ppg. Hooley, who notched his first career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawks, and Rowley are each averaging 8.5 ppg. Rowley recorded his fourth double-double of the season at Maine with 19 points and 17 rebounds and leads the Danes in rebounding at 6.5 per contest.