ALBANY — It was ready to slip away, just like the last couple had for the University at Albany men’s basketball team.
This one would have hurt more.
A lot more.
So with his team’s once-sizable lead cut in half to nine points, UAlbany head coach Will Brown took an earlier-than-usual timeout with 6:53 to go in the second half to remind his team to “finish the job” and snap its five-game losing streak.
“Absolutely,” Brown said in response to a postgame question about if the contest had become a must-win game for the Great Danes given their start to it. “This would have been demoralizing [to lose], to be honest with you.”
While the next few minutes featured a couple more rocky moments, UAlbany made enough plays down the stretch to collect an 84-77 America East Conference win against Hartford. With the victory, UAlbany (1-5, 6-15) avoided its first 0-6 start in conference play since the 2001-02 season — the first in which the Great Danes played in the America East.
“We’ve been so close, and just to get the win just feels really good,” said UAlbany redshirt freshman Cameron Healy, whose team had dropped back-to-back one-point games in overtime. “Just really happy for everyone, and I think we all just feel really good and that sense of relief that we finally got one.”
“Now,” UAlbany junior Ahmad Clark added, “we have to build off it.”
UAlbany had a great start and led Hartford (3-3, 10-11) 49-35 at halftime. The Great Danes made 12 of 17 shots to start the game, and saw their lead surge to as many as 17 points in the opening 20 minutes.
UAlbany’s lead climbed to 18 points early in the second half, but Hartford made its way back into the game. When a controversial block/charge call went Hartford’s way — and fouled out UAlbany freshman Antonio Rizzuto — the Hawks pulled within 75-72 with 3:50 to go.
From there, though, UAlbany made plays. As the Great Danes strung together four consecutive defensive stops, Clark converted a three-point play, Healy made a 3-pointer and senior Devonte Campbell added a free throw to put UAlbany up 10 with 1:57 to go. From there, Hartford never got closer than seven points.
“I think I was the only one that wasn’t relaxed when we got the big lead, but, again, the team’s growing up right in front of you,” Brown said. “We found a couple ways to lose our last two, and I think this team was just determined and desperate to win today.”
For UAlbany, Clark scored 22 points, Rizzuto had 21, Healy added 19 and redshirt freshman Adam Lulka contributed 13. Hartford senior George Blagojevic scored 19 points.
“I thought we played with great toughness and poise when we needed to,” said Brown, whose team next plays Wednesday at New Hampshire. “We’re getting better. We really are. But we have a lot of room for growth and this group, I think, will reach its potential. Potential is a dangerous word, but I think we’ll reach our potential.”
Blagojevic 6-11 6-11 19, Carroll 3-7 5-8 11, J. Dunne 4-8 2-2 12, Lynch 5-12 1-1 13, Weatherington 5-10 4-4 17, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Boxus 0-1 0-0 0, Twyman 0-1 0-0 0, M. Dunne 0-0 0-0 0, Mitchell 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 24-51 18-26 77.
Hank 0-1 0-0 0, Lulka 6-9 1-4 13, Rizzuto 6-9 4-5 21, Clark 6-13 8-10 22, Healy 5-7 6-6 19, de Sousa 0-1 0-2 0, Miller 0-3 2-2 2, Campbell 0-7 3-4 3, Lauderdale 2-2 0-0 4. Totals: 25-52 24-33 84.
Halftime score: UAlbany 49, Hartford 35. Three-point shooting: Hartford 11-23, UAlbany 10-25.
Rebounds: Hartford 28 (Weatherington 7), UAlbany 32 (Lulka 6). Assists: Hartford 16 (Lynch 5), UAlbany 16 (Clark 5). Turnovers: Hartford 16, UAlbany 16. Total fouls: Hartford 23, UAlbany 22. Fouled out: Carroll, J. Dunne, Hank, Rizzuto. Technical fouls: J. Dunne, Hartford bench. Attendance: 2,085.