ALBANY — He’s never played a regular-season minute for the UAlbany men’s basketball program, but the importance of redshirt junior Jojo Anderson to this season’s Great Danes was on display Friday at SEFCU Arena.
The Great Danes play a 7 p.m. home game there Saturday against Niagara and are bringing a three-game losing streak into that matchup, but Friday’s workout was one UAlbany “tried to cater . . . a little bit” in order to allow Anderson — a transfer from Nevada who had a meniscectomy on his left knee in late October — to take part in his first practice of the season.
“Nervous. Rusty,” Brown said when asked how Anderson, who wasn’t made available to reporters for comment, looked in his first full practice. “But I know he was excited to be on the court, and my goal with [Friday’s practice] was just for him to be a part of it.”
UAlbany, 5-6 on the season, still worked through its practice with its focus on preparing for a Niagara squad that has won its last two games after a 0-5 start, but the Great Danes conducted nearly all of their workout in a half-court setting so Anderson could participate. Brown said UAlbany will “move forward with caution” in terms of bringing Anderson along, but that an “ideal” debut game for the 6-foot-3 guard remains the Great Danes’ Dec. 21 game at Monmouth.
If Anderson returns at that point, his injury — which also included a damaged ACL that likely needs to be repaired in the offseason — would have cost him the first 13 games of the season.
In the first 11 of those, it has become more apparent the longer this season goes on without Anderson how much the Great Danes need him. Anderson was expected to be a major contributor during the 2019-20 season, and UAlbany’s need for an additional ball-handler capable of getting to the basket off the dribble and creating open shots for teammates has become more obvious with each game.
“He’s a playmaker,” UAlbany sophomore Malachi de Sousa said. “That’s what we need.”
After back-to-back games in which it had at least 20 turnovers, UAlbany has produced more assists than turnovers in only five games this season. The team’s high volume of turnovers in recent games is alarming, but UAlbany’s offensive concerns go beyond its empty possessions that end in turnovers.
For starters, UAlbany is only making 31% of its 3-point attempts. That figure isn’t great, but also isn’t horrible . . . until it’s considered that redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy is making 37.6% of his team-high 7.7 attempts per game from 3-point range. Healy, UAlbany’s top offensive player, is one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters and doesn’t need much help, or room, in order to fire off a 3-pointer. According to sports-reference.com’s database, Healy was one of 17 players in the country through Thursday’s action who had played in at least 10 games, averaged at least seven 3-point attempts and made at least 37% of their long-range shots.
Other than Healy? UAlbany has made 27.5% of its 3-point attempts, a sign the Great Danes aren’t getting great looks from downtown, the kind of in-rhythm, off-a-pass shots offenses need to thrive.
Then, there is the catch-22 situation currently plaguing the UAlbany offense, which is that the Great Danes score a large percentage of their points off assists despite not registering as a high-assists team. In its 10 games this season against Division I opponents, UAlbany has scored 62.4% of its made field goals with an assist, according to kenpom.com — a figure that ranks the Great Danes No. 15 nationally in that department through Thursday’s games, despite UAlbany averaging a relatively middle-of-the-pack 14 assists per game.
Anderson cannot fix everything that ails the Great Danes’ offense, but his presence in UAlbany’s rotation will change a lot for a team averaging 65.7 points per game. Anderson can create his own shot, get looks for others and provide the Great Danes with another player capable of getting to the foul line.
“He just does everything Coach wants him to do,” de Sousa said.
THIS & THAT
UAlbany could be without sophomore Antonio Rizzuto against Niagara, a guard Brown said has been dealing with an “Achilles situation.” Rizzuto was hurt early in Thursday’s practice and wasn’t able to participate much during Friday’s workout. Brown described Rizzuto as “definitely questionable, at best” to play against Niagara. . . . Niagara represents UAlbany’s fourth game this season against a MAAC squad. Previously, UAlbany defeated Canisius, and lost to Manhattan and Quinnipiac. . . . Redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka returned for UAlbany in its loss Tuesday at Boston College after missing the previous seven games. In 24 minutes, the 6-foot-8 forward had five points and seven rebounds, but said he’s still working back to full strength from his sprained ankle. “I’ve got to work a bit harder to do everything,” Lulka said.