ALBANY — With a Division III opponent Tuesday night at SEFCU Arena, University at Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown warned his Great Danes they couldn’t look past SUNY Potsdam.
He wasn’t sure, though, if the message was getting through to his Division I players. So Brown put what losing to SUNY Potsdam would mean for the Great Danes into terms he knew they’d understand, respect and — perhaps — fear.
“When it happens,” Brown said of a Division I team losing to a Division III squad, “it makes SportsCenter. . . . If you end up on the short end of this thing, it’s going to be a national thing.”
For nearly all of the first half, UAlbany flirted with such a disaster. A quick run before halftime and a decisive one that started midway through the second half, though, provided UAlbany with enough solid play to secure a 78-52 win.
Beyond those two runs, 2-2 UAlbany didn’t play much better than a Potsdam squad that brought a 3-0 record into Tuesday’s matchup. The Great Danes shot 45.9 percent from the field and had 16 turnovers, while Potsdam shot 26.8 percent from the field and had 16 turnovers.
“I thought we were very sloppy in the first half. If you would have told me that we were going to struggle at all, I would have ventured to guess that we weren’t playing any defense,” Brown said. “In reality, it was our offense that led to our struggles.”
UAlbany entered halftime up 34-26 after senior Romani Hansen made a series of strong defensive plays late in the opening half to spark an 8-0 run. With the Danes ahead 27-26, a Hansen blocked shot led to a UAlbany layup. Next, a Hansen steal led to another score for the Great Danes. Then, another Hansen block led to a free throw from Malachi de Sousa. A buzzer-beating layup by Clark capped the run for UAlbany, which had started with a free throw from Hansen that broke a 26-26 tie.
“I just wanted to be a spark for my team off the bench,” said Hansen, who finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes.
UAlbany used a revamped starting lineup against Potsdam. With starting forward Adam Lulka (ankle) missing for the next several weeks and Hansen struggling in previous games, Brown replaced the two forwards with senior forward Kendall Lauderdale and sophomore Antonio Rizzuto. Brown said he wanted to see if coming off the bench could help Hansen. He also wanted to let the perimeter-heavy combination of senior Ahmad Clark, sophomore de Sousa, redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy and Rizzuto get a chance to play together.
While Hansen delivered, the perimeter-based lineup did not.
“I did not like what I saw, to be honest with you, because I gave them a little bit of freedom to play and we didn’t do a good job with it,” Brown said.
The Danes started strong in the second half but didn’t fully separate from Potsdam until a 20-3 run that began with a Healy 3-pointer with 12:08 to go. That 20-3 surge pushed UAlbany’s lead to 26 with 6:05 left, and the Great Danes maintained at least an 18-point lead from there.
“We just started playing a lot tougher,” Hansen said.
Healy led UAlbany with 15 points, while Clark had 14 and Rizzuto added 11. All 11 players that played for UAlbany scored, including senior walk-on Nick Fruscio with his first three points of the season.
For Potsdam, junior Brandon Segar had 13 points.
“They’re going to win a lot of games this year,” Brown said of Potsdam.
Before Tuesday, UAlbany had last played SUNY Potsdam on Dec. 19, 1994, when both schools were Division III programs. UAlbany won that matchup and, including this year’s game, has won 56 of 79 contests between the schools.
UAlbany next plays Friday at Quinnipiac. That matchup starts a three-games-in-three-days stretch for the Danes, who will play Saturday against Sacred Heart and Sunday against Presbyterian. All three games are at People’s United Center in Hamden, Connecticut.
Segar 5-12 2-4 13, Baptiste 3-8 0-2 6, Thomas 2-14 0-0 5, Delsol-Lowry 2-10 5-5 9, Armstrong 2-2 0-0 5, Simpson 1-6 0-0 2, Saunders 1-2 0-1 2, Viskovich 1-6 0-0 3, Sillah 0-2 0-0 0, Joseph 1-1 2-2 5, Annorh 0-2 0-0 0, Oduro 0-1 0-0 0, Dawodu 1-2 0-0 2, Pod 0-2 0-0 0, Dropkin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 19-71 9-14 52.
Lauderdale 2-5 0-1 4, de Sousa 1-5 4-8 6, Rizzuto 4-5 0-0 11, Clark 6-13 0-2 14, Healy 5-10 2-2 15, Hutcheson 3-8 0-1 7, Hansen 3-7 2-4 9, French 1-1 2-2 4, Hank 2-3 0-0 4, Doherty 0-2 1-2 1, Fruscio 1-2 1-2 3. Totals: 28-61 12-24 78.
Halftime score: UAlbany 34, Potsdam 26. Three-point shooting: Potsdam 5-23 (Segar 1-3, Thomas 1-5, Delsol-Lowry 0-4, Armstrong 1-1, Simpson 0-2, Viskovich 1-2, Joseph 1-1, Annorh 0-2, Oduro 0-1, Pod 0-2), UAlbany 10-23 (de Sousa 0-2, Rizzuto 3-4, Clark 2-4, Healy 3-7, Hutcheson 1-2, Hansen 1-3, Doherty 0-1). Rebounds: Potsdam 39 (Segar, Baptiste 9), UAlbany 49 (Hansen 8). Assists: Potsdam 10 (Delsol-Lowry 2), UAlbany 16 (Clark 5). Turnovers: Potsdam 16, UAlbany 16. Total fouls: Potsdam 22, UAlbany 14. Technical fouls: Simpson. Attendance: 2,124.