Time is running out for the seniors on the University at Albany men’s basketball team, who have only a few precious home games remaining before their careers are over.
One of those rare games left at SEFCU Arena will be tonight’s revenge game with UMass-Lowell, which stunned the Danes, 70-66 in overtime, the first time the teams met in January.
The Great Danes, who are 5-4 in the America East Conference and 11-11 overall, only have two more home games left after tonight, but they are also hosting the conference tournament again this year in early March.
“I’ve been here for five years, and it’s been a great experience for me,” said fifth-year senior center John Puk. “But I’m not ready to think about the end of my career. We’ve still got some work to do.”
“The fact that there are only a few games left has crept into my mind, but we want to go out strong and play as hard as we can the rest of the way,” said senior swingman Gary Johnson. “We still have a lot of basketball left.”
Senior point guard DJ Evans echoed his teammates’ sentiments.
“We’re still very confident in our abilities. There is still a lot of basketball to be played,” he said. “There is no real pressure on us. We want to keep getting better each day. I have a lot of faith in my teammates, and I think we can win the America East Conference title again, just like we did last year.”
The Great Danes have been riding a roller coaster lately. After a lackluster loss at New Hampshire, the Danes played one of their best games of the season and knocked off then conference leader Stony Brook, 77-67. But three days later, the Danes couldn’t buy a basket and were ripped by Vermont, 77-67, in the annual Big Purple Growl.
“We only have about six games left in the regular season, and each game means a lot at this time of the year,” said sophomore guard Peter Hooley. “We didn’t shoot well against Vermont, but those things will happen. We still played pretty good defense in that game. We’re ready to go against UMass-Lowell. We won’t take them lightly.”
In the first meeting with the River Hawks, several Great Danes, including Hooley, were injured.
“I was watching that game from the sidelines,” Hooley said. “We struggled early in that game, but we still had a chance to win. We just didn’t execute at the end.”
Johnson agreed. “It wasn’t that we took them lightly. We just didn’t execute our game plan,” he said. “We know they are a very talented team.”
According to Evans, the Great Danes must focus more on stopping the River Hawks’ penetration through the lane, and communicate better on defense.
“We had some injured players in that game, but we’re all pretty healthy now,” he said.
Hooley, the fourth-leading scorer in the conference, tops the Great Danes at 14.5 points per game. He is also second in free-throw shooting (87 percent), ninth in assists (2.9 per game) and first in minutes played (35.8 per game).
Junior forward Sam Rowley is 14th in scoring (11.5 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (6.6 rpg), while Puk is fifth in blocked shots (1.1 per game) and 17th in rebounding (4.4 rpg).
Evans is 16th in scoring (11.3 ppg) and 10th in assists (2.7 pg).
UMass-Lowell was a former rival of UAlbany when both played in the Division II ranks in the New England Collegiate Conference. The River Hawks are 5-4 in the conference (7-14 overall) and are paced by the 1-2 punch of Antonio Bivins and Akeem Williams, who are producing 15.4 ppg, and 15.0 ppg, respectively, in league play. Overall, they both average about 14 ppg.