ALBANY — Members of the UAlbany men’s basketball program insisted after Monday’s practice that Division III SUNY Potsdam has their full attention ahead of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at SEFCU Arena.
UAlbany won’t, they promised, take securing the win for granted.
“Honestly,” UAlbany sophomore Malachi de Sousa said after Monday’s practice, “I don’t think we’re in any position to take anybody lightly.”
In all likelihood, UAlbany rolls past SUNY Potsdam. But, right now, UAlbany is still finding its way. The Great Danes are 1-2 on the season after a 57-51 loss Saturday at Manhattan that saw UAlbany make 5 of 26 shots in the second half, and injuries are starting to pile up for head coach Will Brown’s group. The team lost redshirt junior Jojo Anderson (knee) during the preseason and won’t get him back for several more weeks, and now redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka (ankle) and redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (shoulder) are also out.
Shafer’s injury could last the longest, as Brown said the team is still awaiting word on the severity of the 6-foot-6 perimeter reserve’s right-shoulder injury, but the injury to Lulka suffered in Saturday’s game is the one that will affect the Great Danes the most in the immediate future. Brown said Lulka’s high ankle sprain will likely have the 6-foot-8 forward “out for a good four weeks,” and takes away from the Great Danes their most consistent big man.
“That’s going to change everybody’s role,” de Sousa said of the injury to Lulka, who had a protective boot on his left ankle and foot at Monday’s practice.
Lulka has modest per-game averages of 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds this season, but UAlbany’s frontcourt options are limited. Brown said he’s unsure how he’ll change his starting lineup with Lulka unavailable, but that the adjustment could be more complex than simply sliding another forward into Lulka’s spot.
“I will not just play a guy in that spot just because he’s big,” Brown said. “For me, it’s about productivity.”
Senior Kendall Lauderdale has been UAlbany’s top forward off the bench, but Brown could also opt to start sophomore guard Antonio Rizzuto or freshman wing Trey Hutcheson. Starting the 6-foot-3 Rizzuto — who made 21 starts last season — would leave de Sousa to shift from the 3 position to the 4, while starting the 6-foot-5 Hutcheson could serve as somewhat of a middle ground between the choices of Lauderdale and Rizzuto. Regardless of how the team’s reworked starting lineup sorts itself out, Brown said the 6-foot-8 de Sousa and Hutcheson are now likely to see minutes at the 4 spot in UAlbany’s lineup.
“Whatever lineup [Brown] throws in there, we’ll be ready to compete,” Rizzuto said. “That’s how we have to look at it, but it hurts us that Adam is out.”
SUNY Potsdam is 3-0 on the season and is averaging 85 points per game this season. In recent years, UAlbany has played SUNY Oneonta for its once-a-year matchup with a Division III program.
“We have to treat it the same way as any other game,” Rizzuto said.
While Lulka’s injury will force the Great Danes to reshape their rotation, Brown said it would be “disrespectful” to SUNY Potsdam for his team to plan to do anything besides use its core players for their normal workload.
Beyond that, Brown said his Great Danes cannot afford to do that.
“We’re not good enough right now where we can take nights off,” Brown said, “or we can relax or we can take possessions off.”