ALBANY — After a television interview following Wednesday’s game, Joe Cremo hobbled alone across the SEFCU Arena court toward his University at Albany locker room. He paused to briefly bury his head in his jersey, before continuing his slow trudge.
In a game UAlbany could not afford to lose, it feared it had lost its best chance to win long before the opening tip, when Cremo turned his left ankle in practice Tuesday. After an MRI came back negative, coach Will Brown said it would have taken duct-taping the sophomore down to keep him from playing. That’s how important this game Wednesday night against New Hampshire was to the Great Danes.
And that what made the 75-67 loss to a good Wildcats team that painful. Yes, it dropped the Great Danes, coming off a horrific loss at Stony Brook (they blew a 19-point lead with less than six minutes to play) to 9-9 overall. More importantly, UAlbany is now 0-3 in America East — three losses that all could have been wins.
“We need to stop the bleeding,” Brown said afterward. “We could be 3-0.”
In a gritty performance, Cremo scored 14 points, including a huge 3 that tied the game at 54 with 7:52 to play. But it was evident the guard, who did not take part in early warmups and was not cleared to play until a half-hour before tip-off, did not have his usual elevation.
“He looked like he was a hobbling a little bit,” New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion said. “He looked like he didn’t have the burst getting down the lane.”
David Nichols scored 19 points. And in a breakout performance sure to earn him more playing time, energetic sophomore Devonte Campbell scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds and also notched an assist and blocked shot in 17 minutes.
But once again, UAlbany could not close the deal in the closing minutes. Once again, an opponent shredded the Great Danes behind the arc, as the Wildcats shot 22-for-51 from 3 — a robust 43.1 percent. Utilizing great passing (16 assists, to UAlbany’s 8), New Hampshire (10-6, 1-1) broke down the Danes’ defense consistently to find open shooters in the corners and on the wings.
“We made big plays down the stretch,” Herrion said, pointing to a 3 by Tanner Leissner (16 points, 11 rebounds) with a minute to play that made it a 69-64 game.
“We didn’t get stops,” Brown said, echoing words said after previous losses. “Our defense let us down.”
There was a concern going into Wednesday over a possible hangover from UAlbany’s loss to Stony Brook Sunday, that the stunning defeat could have crippled the team. Brown dismissed that having an impact Wednesday. “No, a veteran basketball team beat us,” he said after the game.
That said, Brown is worried.
“I’m not concerned about 0-3,” he said. “I’m concerned about the psyche of our basketball team.”
This has been a season of bad breaks. Jaraan Lands returned briefly from a hamstring injury only to reaggravate it; he’s now out indefinitely, as is Jamir Andrews (knee). Xavier Cochran has been sidelined all season with a hip. Cremo rolled an ankle before arguably the biggest game of the year. Over the weekend, Dallas Ennema (1-for-3, 3 points) slipped on icy steps on Long Island and hurt his back. It’s always something.
UAlbany even had a couple of big calls go against it late in the game Wednesday, when, on back-to-back possessions, Mike Rowley had baskets waved off when referees determined he was fouled before the act of shooting. Both calls were borderline.
“We needed those baskets,” Brown said, quickly adding that’s not why the Great Danes lost.
So UAlbany lost a must-win game. Up next, it travels to league-leading UMBC (12-4, 3-0) on Monday. How bad do the Great Danes need a win there?
“As bad,” Nichols said, “as we needed one today.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE (75)
Leissner 6-10 1-1 16, Rosinski 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 5-11 1-3 14, Dion 5-9 8-8 20, Ogquche 0-1 0-0 0, Burns 1-1 0-0 3, Reed 5-12 0-0 14, Camara 2-4 1-1 5, Warkins 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 25-52 11-13 75.
Rowley 2-2 3-4 7, Stire 2-2 3-5 7, Cremo 5-13 1-2 14, Grayson 0-5 0-0 0, Nichols 6-16 6-6 19, Anderson 0-0 0-0 o, Campbell 2-4 4-6 8, Ennema 1-3 0-0 3, Charles 4-5 1-2 98. Totals: 22-51 18-25 67.
New Hampshire 31 44 — 75
UAlbany 29 38 — 67
Three-point goals: New Hampshire 14-30 (Leissner 3-4, Smith 3-8, Dion 2-4, Ogwuche 0-1, Burns 1-1, Reed 4-9, Watkins 1-3). UAlbany 5-19 (Cremo 3-8, Grayson 0-2, Nichols 1-5, Campbell 0-1, Ennema 1-3). Rebounds: New Hampshire 29 (Leissner 11), UAlbany 31 (Stire 7). Assists: New Hampshire 16 (Smith 8), UAlbany 8 (Stire, Cremo, Nichols 2 each). Total fouls: New Hampshire 20, UAlbany 15. Fouled out: Camara. A — 2,318.