The SEFCU Arena’s Hall of Fame Room was packed with fans in Danes sweatshirts and polos watching a big TV.
A sports anchor made a calm announcement and the room stood in a tide of raised fists and cheers. The ill-informed observer may have assumed some sort of big victory had taken place. Actually, the crowd was assembled just to see a game scheduled, but it was still a big deal.
The UAlbany Danes defeated the Vermont Catamounts on Saturday, winning the America East championship and their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Sunday night, they were given a No. 15 seed by the Selection Committee — set to face off against No. 2 seed Duke University in Philadelphia on Friday.
“Emotions are at high ebb,” said UAlbany Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lee McElroy. “We won in Vermont yesterday and now this — we’re excited.”
He sat with the team near the TV, but the tracksuit-clad players didn’t seem as openly joyous as the mix of parents and alumni close around.
On the way into to the college’s Selection Sunday event, alumni Matt McLoughlin talked best-case scenarios with his wife, Michelle.
“We’re hoping for a game in Philly,” he said. “It’s not too long a drive.”
He got his wish and was visibly giddy after the announcement, which is not to say he wouldn’t have road-tripped farther. Last time the team made the tournament back in 2007, they played the Virginia Cavaliers in Columbus, Ohio. McLoughlin was there.
“We worked all day, got on a bus and rode all night just to be there,” he said. “Don’t tell our bosses, but we’ll figure out a way to get to this game, too.”
Another local alumni Tom Doody is also planning to make Friday’s game.
“My spine is tingling just thinking about it,” he said, describing the last time the team played in Philadelphia. He pulled up his outer purple T-shirt revealing a ratty old game shirt from the team’s first tournament in 2006.
“We were up 10 points with 10 minutes left,” he said, “but UConn won it.”
Even so, he’s looking for a similarly exciting game against Duke.
Doody was at the Vermont game Saturday, one of many to board three college buses at 6 a.m. and return in time to witness a second UAlbany victory with the women’s team guaranteeing their own tournament spot.
“We got back in time to hydrate at the Across the Street Pub before the second game,” he laughed.
At the end of the week, he plans to be on another bus. The Danes have a passionate fan base, but two easily took the cake for most committed game-day travelers.
Tony and Angela Devlin spent 28 hours in a transcontinental jet from their home in Australia to see their son Luke play a few games. They were on hand to see the junior score 12 points against Vermont, and again to see the announcement.
“We were supposed to go home tomorrow,” he said. “Now we’ll have to make new arrangements.”
Amid the cheers and merriment, team members were left to contemplate the task ahead. Duke is a nationally known team given a No. 2 seed and formerly ranked No. 1 this year — quite a team to beat.
“It’s unreal,” said freshman guard Reece Williams. “Duke has been my favorite college team since I was five. It feels like they’re older than us somehow, but we’re all just college students.”
Even McElroy acknowledged a UAlbany victory would be an upset, but said his team loves a challenge. Fans, of course, are blessed with optimism.
“Duke’s not as good as everyone says they are,” said freshman Matt Kroez. “We’ll absolutely win.”
The UAlbany women’s basketball team will learn its seed and NCAA Tournament opponent tonight.
UAlbany officials said there will be buses going to Philadelphia on game day, but plans were not set Sunday night.
Tickets will be available soon by calling 442-3263.