ALBANY — Toward the end of Tuesday’s practice at SEFCU Arena, University at Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown and junior David Nichols talked together in one corner of the floor.
The message from coach to point guard: You don’t have to go it alone.
“He’s made progress in a lot of areas from last season to this season,” said Brown, whose team plays host 7 p.m. Wednesday to Colgate. “I think he puts too much pressure on himself to make plays. And, right now, we have a guy on our team that’s been unstoppable all year in Travis Charles — and we didn’t get him the ball in the last four minutes of the game.”
That’s Monday’s game against Monmouth, one in which the Great Danes suffered their first loss of the season in an 81-73 setback. Nichols struggled down the stretch in that one, shooting 0 of 7 from the field and 2 of 6 from the foul line in Monday’s second half.
“He’s frustrated,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’s happy with how he played in the second half. I don’t think he played with poise and composure.”
Nichols, at first, said he was not frustrated after Monday’s game — and then explained why he was frustrated.
“I think I just missed open shots that I normally make. That can be frustrating,” Nichols said. “I’m frustrated with myself, mostly for missing the free throws. I think if I make free throws, we win that game.”
Perhaps. But what hurt UAlbany more against Monmouth was the way the Great Danes responded in the second half of a game in which the Hawks were the more physical team.
“They tried to punk us and we were bothered by it,” Brown said, “and that’s something that surprised me a little bit.”
While several Great Danes didn’t respond well to Monday’s atmosphere — senior Greig Stire picked up five fouls in eight minutes; junior Joe Cremo had seven turnovers — Brown didn’t like how Nichols dealt with a Monmouth defense offering more resistance than UAlbany’s first six opponents. There was too much 1-on-1 from Nichols, who tied a season-high with 18 shot attempts during a game in which he recorded two assists against a Monmouth squad which bumped, hand-checked and held Nichols whenever it could.
“That’s when he really needs to settle down and take a deep breath,” Brown said.
Of course, Nichols is a competitor. He declined to say that any of Monmouth’s tactics worked.
“I don’t think anything they were doing bothered me,” Nichols said. “I got the shots I wanted to get. Every shot I took was wide open. I just didn’t make them.”
Monday’s second half was a rare example of that happening this season for Nichols, who has scored 18 points or more in four of UAlbany’s first seven games. Before Monday’s game, Nichols was shooting 45.2 percent from the field. Along with Charles and Cremo, Nichols has been the driving force behind UAlbany averaging 83.0 points per game this season and shooting an America East-best 50.8 percent from the field.
“We’ve just been outscoring teams,” Stire said. “That’s why we’ve been winning.”
Brown wants that to change. His team, he said, needs to get better on defense after it allowed Monmouth to score 52 points in Monday’s second half — but the Great Danes are 6-1 with three consecutive home games coming up. Colgate (3-2) is a challenging foe, but also one Nichols and the rest of the Great Danes should be able to use to get back on track after their first loss.
“I think spirits are still high. Energy is good,” Nichols said. “We’re 6-1 right now. A lot of teams would trade places with us in a heartbeat.”