Apparently, the first half came too easy, so the Great Danes searched for more of a challenge down the stretch just to make things interesting against the last-place team in the America East Conference.
University at Albany built a comfortable 20-point lead in the first 20 minutes, but Maine cut that margin all the way down to a single point with eight minutes left before the Great Danes shifted gears again and secured a 74-63 victory over the Black Bears Saturday afternoon at SEFCU Arena.
“We played like the game was over in the first half,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “We didn’t have the same energy in the second half. Luckily, we responded.”
“It’s hard playing with the lead,” said UAlbany sophomore guard Peter Hooley, who finished with 21 points, including a dagger of a three-pointer that stopped the bleeding after the Bears had cut their deficit to 57-56.
“There is no bad shot for your opponent when he is down by 20. Luckily, coach called a timeout and made us refocus. It was also lucky that we put such a great first half together,” Hooley added.
UAlbany (7-6 America East Conference, 13-13 overall) could do nothing wrong in the first half. The Danes ran out to a 16-2 lead, quickly expanded that advantage to 22-4 and grabbed a 47-27 halftime edge. The Danes knocked down seven of their nine three-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
About the only bad news for the Danes in the first half was that starting forward Sam Rowley struggled with his injured ankle and scored just four points. He ended up turning the ankle again in the second half.
Maine (3-10 America East Conference, 5-20 overall) refused to throw in the towel. Behind Voorheesville graduate Ethan Mackey and 6-foot-8 sophomore Till Gloger, the Black Bears went on a 14-4 run to open the second half, cutting the UAlbany halftime lead in half.
Back-to-back pull-up jumpers by DJ Evans and Luke Devlin halted the Maine momentum, but Maine kept firing away. Zarko Valjarevic nailed a three-pointer, and Shaun Lawton made a pair of free throws with 8:01 remaining to finally pull the Black Bears within 57-56.
That’s when the Great Danes began to show some life once more. Hooley and Dallas Ennema each poured in three-pointers, and then Rowley drew a charging foul on Troy Reid-McKnight with 4:47 left before Evans scored on a driving layup to push the Danes on top, 65-58.
Another layup by Hooley and two free throws by Evans helped neutralize a three-point play by Mackey.
UAlbany pulled away again by scoring the final five points of the game from the line.
“We came out strong and played great defense today. That’s what got us our lead,” said Hooley. “We also drew some great charges to swing the momentum back to us once they made their run. There is nothing more demoralizing to an offense than when a charge goes against you.
“A win is a win at this stage,” Hooley said.
Evans, who added 16 points and five assists, agreed.
“We really needed a win very badly,” he said, pointing to the Great Danes’ two-game losing streak on the road before Saturday’s game. “When you play games at home, you pretty much get all the energy from the crowd, but when you are on the road, you have to create your own energy.”
Brown said the Great Danes have yet to play their best 40 minutes of basketball.
“We haven’t played two good halves together,” he said. “There was 14 minutes in between where we really struggled. We knew that Maine would make a run, but I don’t think we thought they would cut the lead all the way down to one point.
“This time of year, it’s all about survival,” Brown said. “It’s not about style points. We’ve won all our conference games here, except for the Vermont game. We’ve got to learn from this game and move on. Every game matters.
“I don’t want our guys banking on the fact that the tournament will be played here and that we play well here. I don’t want us to use SEFCU Arena as a crutch. I want us to win as many games as we can the rest of the season.”
Five players finished in double figures for Maine, led by Valiarevic with 15 points. Mackey added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“Our guys really fought hard to get back into the game,” said Maine head coach Ted Woodward. “They battled back today. Ethan did a great job for us. He gets excited for the Albany games. He goes after every rebound.”
Akanda-Coronel 0-3 0-0 0, Valjarevic 4-10 4-4 15, Lawton 4-11 2-2 10, Gloger 5-10 0-0 10, Mackey 5-8 2-3 12, Ejiga 1-1 0-0 2, Pirovic 0-0 0-0 0, Pollard 3-13 4-4 11, Reid-Knight 1-2 0-0 3, Beal 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-58 12-13 63.
Evans 5-10 4-4 16, Hooley 6-15 6-7 21, S. Rowley 2-9 0-0 4, Johnson 5-9 1-2 11, Puk 2-8 0-0 4, M. Rowley 1-1 0-0 3, Devlin 3-4 0-0 6, Ennema 3-4 0-0 9. Totals 27-60 11-13 74.
Halftime—UAlbany, 47-27. Three-point goals—Maine 5-17 (Valjarevic 3-7, Reid-Knight 1-1, Pollard 1-6, Akanda-Coronel 0-1, Lawton 0-2), UAlbany 9-14 (Ennema 3-4, Hooley 3-5, Evans 2-4, M. Rowley 1-1). Fouled out—Puk. Rebounds—Maine 34 (Mackey 12), UAlbany 36 (Puk 7). Assists—Maine 12 (Lawton 5), UAlbany 15 (Evans, Hooley 5). Total fouls—Maine 17, UAlbany 16. A—2,912.