The University at Albany basketball coaches and players have seen this scenario before.
The Great Danes know all about exceeding expectations. After all, they became the first fourth seed in America East Conference history to win the conference tournament a year ago, and they accomplished that feat against the top-seeded Vermont Catamounts on the road at daunting Patrick Gym in Burlington, Vt.
Despite the fact that the environment will be much cozier at Stony Brook’s tiny Pritchard Gym, the Great Danes, once again the fourth-seeded underdogs, believe they are well-prepared to pull off another upset this morning at 11:30 against the second-seeded Seawolves.
“We do have guys who have been in these situations before,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “They just need to be a calming influence to the rest of the guys. Last year, we had great leadership from guys like Jacob Iati and Blake Metcalf. We’ve got guys finally playing with a sense of urgency now. We told them all [last] weekend that we are the defending champions. We are still the defending champions until somebody beats us.”
UAlbany and Stony Brook split their regular-season matchups. The Great Danes beat the Seawolves, 77-67, at SEFCU Arena in a game played without SBU starting point guard Carson Puriefoy, but Stony Brook rallied past UAlbany, 73-68, in the regular-season finale at Pritchard Gym.
“I think we match up well in the halfcourt against Stony Brook,” said Brown. “In the last two years, we’ve played them well down there, but we lost in close games. We’ve just got to finish better.”
Brown has plenty of respect for the 23-9 Seawolves, who feature 6-foot-9 AE Player of the Year Jameel Warney (14.7 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, .629 field goal percentage) and Anthony Jackson (12.9 ppg), along with Puriefoy.
Brown likes the fact that his 17-14 Danes seem to elevate their games in the tournament.
“Their backs are up against the wall, and their careers are on the line,” he said.
UAlbany’s confidence is contagious.
“We’re just competitive,” said junior forward Sam Rowley, who is second on the team in scoring (11.3 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.8 rpg). “We are peaking at the right time. I think the biggest thing for us is momentum. We respect them [the Seawolves], but they don’t intimidate us. I think last year’s championship game was huge, because it gave us confidence going into this championship game as the fourth seed once again. If you play well at the right time, you can make up for past sins, so to speak.”
Senior swingman Gary Johnson (11.1 ppg), who along with leading scorer Peter Hooley (15 ppg) is at his best when attacking the rim, believes the Danes are an excellent matchup for the Seawolves.
“With all the talent we have, we just needed time to get it all together. I think it’s happened at the right time,” he said.
“It’s going to be tough playing in that environment. It’s a tough place to play. But
every game, our coaches come up with a great game plan. It all comes down to staying focused.”