University at Albany’s muscle man carried the Great Danes on his back Saturday night.
Sophomore Sam Rowley, a former rugby player and UAlbany’s strongest player by far, scored 19 points, including his team’s final eight, to spark UAlbany to a 50-49 come-from-behind victory over Maine in the America East Conference tournament quarterfinals before a near full house of 3,821 at SEFCU Arena.
UAlbany, which improved to 22-10, takes on top-seeded Stony Brook in tonight’s semifinals. The Seawolves have eliminated the Great Danes from this tournament three consecutive years.
Maine (11-19), the fifth seed, dominated the Great Danes for nearly the entire game, taking a 13-point lead in the first half. The Black Bears went into intermission with a 33-24 edge.
UAlbany shot just 32 percent in the first half, while the Bears connected on 58.3 percent of their shots.
A technical foul on UAlbany head coach Will Brown actually turned the momentum in the Great Danes’ favor. Brown argued what he felt was a traveling call, and he was assessed a technical for coming out of the coach’s box. Although Zarko Valjarevic made one of two free throws, the Great Danes went on a 10-0 run to grab a 46-44 advantage with 2:27 left. Rowley was 4-for-4 from the line at the end of that string.
Maine recaptured the lead on two foul shots by Xavier Pollard and a tip-in by Justin Edwards, but Rowley’s driving shot in the lane knotted the score again, 48-48, with 1:10 to go.
Another Rowley driving layup with 20.1 seconds left ended up being the game-winner, but the game was far from over.
Maine called a timeout with 16.1 seconds left, and the Black Bears set up a play for Edwards, who finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Edwards drove the lane, missed the layup attempt, and then tried to tap in his own rebound, but Rowley grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled by Edwards.
An exhausted Rowley then missed both free throws with 6.2 seconds left, but Edwards’ desperation shot from the right baseline bounced off the rim.
“We rode the back of the best non-all-league player in Sam Rowley,” said Brown. “We fed off Sam. It was a gutsy win.”
“We kept calling my name at the end,” said Rowley. “The best thing about our team is that on any given night a whole bunch of guys can step up. We are a team in the true sense of the word.”
“Sam was just fantastic at the end,” said Jacob Iati, who added 11 points.
“Sam won the game for us,” added senior Mike Black, who was held to just nine points on 2-for-10 shooting.
This will be UAlbany’s second consecutive semifinal appearance and fifth overall.
Rowley also grabbed eight rebounds for the Great Danes, while Black became the 44th player in conference history to record his 1,500th career point during the win.
“I thought Maine would be a tough opponent for us. They have two all-league players in Edwards and [Alasdair] Fraser,” said Brown. “We knew we were going to have our hands full.”
Pollard added 13 points for Maine, which blocked seven shots.
UAlbany took advantage of a huge edge at the line. The Great Danes made 13 of 17 shots at the line, compared to Maine’s 4-for-6. Maine was whistled for 22 personal fouls, compared to just nine for UAlbany.
Despite getting into foul trouble early, Maine took a 25-14 lead with 6:39 left in the first half. The Danes trimmed their deficit to 25-17 before the Black Bears opened up a 30-17 lead with 3:45 remaining before intermission.
Maine grabbed several 11-point leads early in the second half, when Edwards stole the ball from Peter Hooley twice on consecutive plays and went end-to-end for slam-dunks.
But the Great Danes weathered the storm with jumpers by Iati and Hooley, as well as two foul shots by Black.
Next up is Stony Brook, an old SUNYAC rival that is the most talented team in the league.
“Every year, Stony Brook knocked us out of this tournament,” said Black. “They are a very good team.”
Brown said that the Great Danes will once again offer 400 free tickets to students. Brown, his wife, Jamie, and the president of SEFCU joined forces to buy 400 tickets for Saturday night’s game. It helped jam the building.
The top-seeded UAlbany women face New Hampshire today at 1:30 in the semifinals after receiving a bye in the first round.
Valjarevic 1-6 1-2 3, Fraser 2-6 0-0 4, Allison 0-0 1-2 1, Pollard 5-7 2-2 13, Edwards 8-20 0-0 18, McAllian 1-1 0-0 3, Lawton 1-1 0-0 2, Cto 1-1 0-0 3, Gloger 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 20-43 4-6 49.
Johnson 1-6 0-1 2, Puk 1-5 0-0 2, Iati 3-7 4-4 11, Black 2-10 4-4 9, Rowley 7-14 5-8 19, Evans 1-3 0-0 3, Devlin 0-1 0-0 0, Hooley 1-3 0-0 2, Metcalf 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 17-50 13-17 50.
Halftime: Maine, 33-24. Three-point goals: Maine 5-15 (Valjarevic 0-4, Fraser 0-1, Pollard 1-2, Edwards 2-6, McAllian 1-1, Cato 1-1); UAlbany 3-9 (Iati 1-4, Black 1-4, Evans 1-1). Rebounds: Maine 28 (Edwards 7), UAlbany 32 (Puk 8, Rowley 8). Personal fouls: Maine 22, UAlbany 9. Fouled out: Fraser, Pollard. Technical fouls: Brown. Officials: Bill Laubenstein, David Walker, Darren Moran.