Freshman Joe Cremo and the University at Albany bench came to the rescue Wednesday night.
With the Great Danes’ big scorers largely silent, Cremo — the Scotia-Glenville product and two-time New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A Player of the Year — poured in a career-high 25 points, and the Danes’ bench scored 43 points en route to a 65-56 victory over Niagara before a crowd of 3,182 at SEFCU Arena.
Cremo was 9-for-12 from the floor, 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 4-for-5 from the line. He also added a pair of steals in 27 minutes of action off the bench.
“Joe played well,” said ailing UAlbany head coach Will Brown, who was struggling with flu symptoms. “He really didn’t force the action. He’s confident in his ability. Basketball is very important to him, and he’s really a gym rat. A guy who puts as much time in as he does deserves all the success he gets.”
“There’s always room for improvement,” said Cremo, whose previous career-best was 18 points. “I want this team to be the best team possible. When it comes to points, I try not to force anything. I just try to be aggressive. I just try to play my own game out there.”
The Great Danes got off to a slow start, but eventually pulled away to an 18-point lead behind the high-energy play of Cremo. Fellow bench performers Richard Peters and Dallas Ennema scored nine points apiece and combined for seven rebounds.
Meanwhile, the UAlbany starters struggled. The high-scoring trio of Evan Singletary, Ray Sanders and Peter Hooley combined for just 16 points. Singletary was held scoreless, but contributed a career-best 10 assists.
“Joe and Big Rich [Peters] came up big tonight,” Singletary said. “We all played our parts. I was just trying to do my job and set up the other players tonight”
Cremo played down his scoring exploits.
“It’s nice to get this boost of confidence, but my teammates kept setting me up,” he said. “I think the first loose ball I got to got me going tonight.”
“He always plays this way, even in practice,” Singletary said about Cremo. “He does spend a lot of time in the gym.”
Brown compared Cremo’s all-out style to former UAlbany standout Levi Levine. “Levi Levine is the only other guy I coached who was as tough as Joe. Joe tries to fight everyone in practice,” Brown said.
“One night, the opposing team accidentally left a scouting report out, and it said that Joe was a good freshman but needed some work defensively. Joe didn’t think it was funny, and he’s carried a chip on his shoulder ever since in terms of his defense.”
The Great Danes improved to 6-0 at home and 9-4 overall. They made 15 of 19 shots from the line and held a 33-26 rebounding edge, topped by CBA graduate Greig Stire with 10. Niagara, from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, slipped to 3-9. Dominic Robb came off the bench to lead the Purple Eagles with 19 points.
Although his starters struggled, Brown liked what he saw for the most part.
“The last game before the holiday is always a dangerous game,” he said. “We came out flat, but then we played very well for a long stretch. I think the last five minutes our guys were thinking about going home for the holiday, and they thought Niagara would go away. But for us, it’s nice to go into the Christmas break at 9-4. We have a lot of things to improve upon.”
UAlbany does not play another game until next Tuesday, when it travels to St. Francis Brooklyn.
Prochet 1-5 0-0 2, Tew 1-5 0-0 2, Fowler 0-1 0-0 0, Blackman 5-17 0-0 12, Scott 4-11 4-6 13, Barton 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 2-3 2-2 8, Satchell 0-1 0-0 0, Robb 9-11 1-1 19. Totals: 22-55 7-9 56.
Rowley 1-2 0-0 2, Stire 1-4 2-2 4, Singletary 0-5 0-0 0, Sanders 2-4 3-4 8, Hooley 2-10 4-4 8, Andrews 0-0 0-0 0, Cremo 9-12 4-5 25, Peters 4-4 1-2 9, Ennema 3-5 1-2 9. Totals: 22-46 15-19 65.
Halftime: UAlbany 32-24. 3-point goals: Niagara 5-16 (Prochet 0-2, Blackman 2-5, Scott 1-5, Taylor 2-3, Satchell 0-1); UAlbany 6-17 (Singletary 0-3, Sanders 1-2, Hooley 0-5, Cremo 3-3, Ennema 2-4). Rebounds: Niagara 26 (Taylor 9); UAlbany 33 (Stire 10). Assists: Niagara 11 (Fowler 4), UAlbany 15 (Singletary 10). Personal fouls: Niagara 15, UAlbany 13 Officials: D.J. Cartensen, Dwayne Gladden, John Garbinski. Attendance: 3,182.