After suffering two losses to regular-season champion Vermont during the regular season, including a 68-38 thumping in Burlington, University at Albany head basketball coach Will Brown wanted another shot at the Great Danes’ fiercest league rival in the America East Conference tournament.
He got his wish.
The defending tournament champion Great Danes crushed undermanned University of Maryland Baltimore County, 86-56, in Saturday’s quarterfinal at SEFCU Arena, setting up today’s semifinal test against Vermont, which advanced with a 77-60 victory over New Hampshire behind the event’s first-ever triple-double from Brian Voelkel (10 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists).
Sophomore guard Peter Hooley poured in a career-high 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting overall and 5-for-6 from beyond the arc to lead the Great Danes to their third straight tournament semifinal. Hooley also registered three steals for UAlbany, which led wire-to-wire over the Retrievers. UMBC suited up only seven players because three Retrievers were suspended for breaking team rules.
Although UAlbany and UMBC split their season series in a pair of close games — a 73-72 double-overtime win at SEFCU and a 71-69 loss in Baltimore — Saturday’s game was a rout.
The Great Danes shot 56.1 percent from the floor and made 11 of 20 shots from three-point range en route to scoring a season-high 86 points.
Four other players scored in double figures. Junior forward Sam Rowley scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the floor, center John Puk and Anders Haas registered 11 points apiece, and senior point guard DJ Evans chipped in with 10.
Fourth-seeded UAlbany (16-14) substituted freely and used all 12 active players on the roster. No Great Dane played more than 29 minutes.
“I thought we played with great energy,” said Brown. “We were very unselfish on both sides of the ball. I also thought we played very solid halfcourt defense. Our goal was to play inside-out. We were also able to use a lot of guys.”
“It was a great feeling, when you start out like that and get in a groove,” said Hooley.
“To get a great team win like that at this stage of the season was super,” said Rowley. “We were firing on all cylinders.”
But the discussion quickly turned toward today’s 5 p.m. semifinal against the 22-9 Catamounts.
“I can’t wait. If we could, we’d even jump on a bus and go to Burlington right now,” Brown said with a laugh.
But unlike last year’s championship game that was played at Patrick Gym, the Danes will be playing Vermont at SEFCU Arena in the semis.
“Vermont is a very good team. I have a lot of respect for them. Their bus driver and their two managers even made the all-conference team,” Brown quipped. “We want this game. They have six seniors, and they are well-coached. We will have to find a way to score the ball against them. I think we have a better chance of beating the Knicks than Vermont. We have a chance to win, but will have to play very well to beat them.”
America East Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliott and Quentin Jones led the 9-21 Retrievers with 18 points apiece.
At the America East awards reception, Hooley and Rowley were both named to the America East second team. Center John Puk, the league leader in blocked shots, was named to the all-defensive squad.
Houston 1-6 0-0 2, Kadin 2-6 1-4 6, Elliott 6-14 4-6 18, Jones 6-9 2-2 18, Darley 3-9 0-0 8, Grace 1-1 0-0 3, Garner 1-9 0-0 2. Totals: 20-54 7-12 56.
S. Rowley 6-7 3-4 15, Johnson 1-6 0-0 2, Puk 4-5 3-3 11, Evans 3-9 2-2 10, Hooley 12-16 1-2 30, Haas 3-4 2-3 11, M. Rowley 0-0 0-0 0, Devlin 1-3 0-0 2, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Egharevba 0-2 0-0 0, Wiegmann 1-1 0-2 2, Ennema 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 32-57 11-16 86.
Halftime: UAlbany, 38-17. Three-point goals: UMBC 9-24 (Houston 0-2, Elliott 2-6, Jones 4-7, Darley 2-5, Grace 1-1, Garner 0-3), UAlbany 11-20 (Johnson 0-1, Evans 2-5, Hooley 5-6, Haas 3-4, Egharevba 0-1, Ennema 1-3). Rebounds: UMBC 28 (Darley 7), UAlbany 36 (Devlin 7). Assists: UMBC 16 (Elliott 6), UAlbany 17 (Evans 4). Total fouls: UMB 13, UAlbany 15.