As far as the University at Albany men’s basketball team is concerned, the seeding and the name of its next opponent are meaningless.
The fourth-seeded Great Danes take on the fifth-seeded Maine Black Bears tonight at 8:30 in the America East Conference tournament at SEFCU Arena, but UAlbany has been focusing on fine-tuning its own game for the last three weeks to prepare for this special weekend.
“We have everything going for us,” said sophomore forward Sam Rowley, one of three Australians on the UAlbany roster. “We are healthy, and we are playing at home.”
Redshirt freshman Peter Hooley, another Australian who is finally fully healthy after missing a couple of games with a concussion, agreed.
“We competed against Stony Brook in our final regular-season game. We gave them a run for their money, and we proved we can beat anybody at any time,” said Hooley.
“Twenty-one days ago, we started to count down for this tournament. We’re focused on now. We know that anything can happen on one day. It only takes one game. It’s good to have the home crowd behind you, and I think we match up well with Maine.”
To help ensure that the Great Danes will have a big crowd in the quarterfinals, UAlbany head coach Will Brown, his wife, Jamie, and SEFCU president Michael J. Castellana combined to purchase 400 tickets to be donated to UAlbany students for the game.
“It’s a big advantage playing in our own building,” said senior guard Mike Black, the team’s leading scorer at 15 points per game. “We are playing in front of our own fans, and we are used to our own rims. We are happy and confident.
“At this time of year, every team is tired and worn down. You have to be mentally tough. We don’t care who we play, and we don’t have any worries who we play. I hope Maine is worried about us.”
The Great Danes split the regular-season series with Maine, winning at SEFCU, but losing by 14 in Orono.
“It’s very important to be home,” said Brown. “Of the eight teams that have a chance to win this conference tournament, only one is playing on their home court, and that’s us. We want people to fear playing in our building. If you don’t win the regular-season title, then you don’t really care about seeding. We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now.”
The Great Danes (21-10) won’t take the Black Bears (11-18) for granted.
“They are very talented, and they have great guards. We must stop their guards,” said Black. “In the second game up there, we never gave ourselves a chance. We were sluggish. I could be playing my last college game this weekend, and I don’t want that to happen. I’ll do everything I can to keep my season going.”
Black, fifth-year senior Jacob Iati (12.2 ppg), Rowley (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Hooley (8.0 ppg, team-best 91 assists) and junior center John Puk (5.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) are the projected starters for the Great Danes, who also go fairly deep on their bench. Jayson Guerrier (3.8 ppg), Gary Johnson (3.8 ppg), Luke Devlin (3.5 ppg) and DJ Evans (3.1 ppg) all see regular playing time.
Maine is led by sophomore guard Justin Edwards, who was the conference’s co-scoring leader at 16.7 ppg. Post player Alasdair Fraser contributes 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while Jon Mesghna is one of the conference’s top three-point shooters. Fraser and Mike Allison are among the leaders in blocked shots.
If the Great Danes beat Maine, they advance to Sunday’s semifinals. The semifinal winners play at the highest remaining seed next Saturday at 11 a.m.
In other first-round matchups, Vermont takes on New Hampshire at noon, Hartford plays UMBC at 2:30 and top-seeded Stony Brook faces Binghamton at 6. Boston University is ineligible for the tournament because the Terriers are playing in the Patriot League next season.