ALBANY — He tried to smile. He tried to laugh.
Really, Joe Cremo just wanted to hold it together for long enough to get through the moment and was trying to trick himself into doing that.
That’s how Cremo, the University at Albany men’s basketball team’s star junior guard from Scotia, prepared himself to answer a question about what he’d try to take from Saturday’s 69-60 loss to Stony Brook in the America East quarterfinals.
A loss that meant UAlbany’s year-long quest to get back to the conference championship game would come up short.
A loss that (likely) meant the end of career at UAlbany for the team’s four seniors.
A loss that meant another season for Cremo ending without a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t like getting emotional, but I’m an emotional person,” Cremo said. “I’m just trying to take it. Everything happens for a reason, so just got to come back a better player next year.”
A single tear fell as he finished his answer. Then, he dropped his head onto the table in front of him. Senior teammate Greig Stire and head coach Will Brown patted him on the back for support.
“Stinks. Stinks,” Brown said of seeing Cremo’s postgame emotion. “He came here to play in the NCAA tournament. That’s what he saw when he was in high school. That’s what he saw when we recruited him. That’s what he wanted. He’s clearly frustrated by it. He takes it personal. He thinks he’s a big reason why it hasn’t happened yet.”
College basketball. March.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 4, 2018
Joe Cremo gives an example of how emotional this time of year is for the teams who come up short of reaching the tournament.
Will Brown breaks down how difficult it is to watch your player go through a defeat this time of year. #AEPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/h48Fi3AfTB
Against Stony Brook, Cremo — as he too often has been this season for the Great Danes — was one of the only reasons UAlbany had a chance. On a night where UAlbany struggled all over the court and never led, Cremo scored 24 points and nearly willed the Great Danes to overtake Stony Brook midway through the second half.
But UAlbany lost.
So, Brown said, that effort means nothing to someone like Cremo — especially in March.
“He doesn’t care about the 24 points, the first-team all-conference, the rookie of the year, the sixth man of the year,” said Brown, running through some of Cremo’s accomplishments. “He would trade it all for an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. That kid just wants to win because he knows that [when] you win the other accolades take care of itself — and, you see him. That’s how he is. At a regular season loss, he gets — maybe — not quite that emotional, but he gets emotional and you want guys like that, who it’s really important to.”
“Because — trust me — I’ve seen some guys who are just, ‘Whatever,’” Brown said. “It means the world to him. It means everything to him.”
But pretty much everything went wrong Saturday for UAlbany. The Great Danes shot 18 of 57 from the field, trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half and had no other player than Cremo contributed more than eight points.
“Our defense wasn’t great by any stretch,” Brown said, “but our offense was bad.”
UAlbany fifth-year senior Travis Charles did play for the Great Danes after missing Tuesday’s win against Binghamton with a sprained left MCL. Charles, junior David Nichols and fifth-year senior Alex Foster each scored eight points.
“We just never got in a rhythm,” said Brown, whose junior backcourt of Cremo and Nichols combined to shoot 9 of 34.
For Stony Brook, sophomore Akwasi Yeboah scored 18 points.
Stony Brook (No. 5, 13-18) quickly pushed its 30-25 halftime lead over UAlbany (No. 4, 22-10) into double-digits. While Stony Brook was aggressive at every turn, UAlbany couldn’t get going as the Seawolves crowded the paint by leaving Great Danes junior Devonte Campbell — who had made 7 of 50 3-point attempts this season — wide open on the perimeter.
“Listen, the way they guarded us caused us problems. It took a long time for teams in our league to figure it out on what they needed to do and how they needed to defend us,” Brown said. “But, for me, I respect Devonte Campbell too much to just say ‘Sorry, son, sit on the sideline. Nobody’s guarding you.’ Because I look at it the other way. He’s as good as any perimeter defender in our league.”
Down 49-38 midway through the second half, Cremo scored eight consecutive points to start a 10-0 UAlbany run. After the Great Danes got within 49-48, though, UAlbany’s offense again went stagnant as Stony Brook slowly pulled away for a decisive victory.
“They were extremely aggressive and physical,” Brown said of the Seawolves, who will play No. 1 Vermont in the semifinals.
Brown said UAlbany will have opportunities to continue its season, but didn’t confirm if the Great Danes will take that route this season after playing in the CIT last year.
“Coaches always want to continue to play,” Brown said.
Cremo, Brown said, will probably hang his head until the Great Danes take the court together again — whether that’s next week or next season.
“That’s just how he is,” Brown said.
Someone else is like that, too.
“It’s going to bother me for a while,” Brown said of Saturday’s loss.
Olaniyi 5-11 2-3 12, Saintel 6-10 4-4 17, Ochefu 0-2 0-2 0, McKenzie 1-1 1-2 3, Yeboah 7-12 0-0 18, Cornish 1-7 2-2 4, Iroegbu 1-3 0-0 3, Sturdivant 0-4 0-2 0, Sekunda 0-2 4-4 4, Petras 4-7 0-0 8. Totals: 25-59 13-19 60.
Campbell 2-6 1-4 5, Charles 3-4 2-2 8, Stire 0-3 4-6 4, Nichols 2-15 4-4 8, Cremo 7-19 5-5 24, Anderson 1-4 0-0 3, Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Conway 0-2 0-0 0, Foster 3-4 2-3 8. Totals: 18-57 18-24 69.
Halftime score: Stony Brook 30, UAlbany 25. Three-point shooting: Stony Brook 6-19 (Olaniyi 0-1, Saintel 1-2, Yeboah 4-8, Cornish 0-1, Iroegbu 1-2, Sturdivant 0-3, Sekunda 0-2), UAlbany 6-20 (Campbell 0-2, Nichols 0-5, Cremo 5-9, Anderson 1-3, Conway 0-1). Rebounds: Stony Brook 40 (Sturdivant 13), UAlbany 41 (Stire 9). Assists: Stony Brook 16 (McKenzie 6), UAlbany 10 (Nichols 6). Turnovers: Stony Brook 10, UAlbany 14. Total fouls: Stony Brook 17, UAlbany 16. Attendance: 1,785.