ALBANY — Up one point at halftime last week at Boston College of the ACC, the UAlbany men’s basketball program was a strong half away from earning a signature win during its non-conference season.
“But,” UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark said Monday, “we eventually gave them the game.”
The Great Danes committed 20 turnovers in that 72-51 loss in which they were outscored 42-20 in a second half. That removed their chance to score a quality road win. UAlbany then won last Saturday against Niagara to even its record at 6-6 heading into Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. matchup with St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena in Jamaica, a contest against a Big East Conference foe that offers UAlbany its final chance to produce a signature win before conference play arrives in early January.
“With this game, it’s going to test how tough we are as a group and show us where we’re at heading into conference play,” Clark said.
So far during this injury-plagued season, the Great Danes’ best win has come against a Sacred Heart program that checked in at No. 199 in this week’s debut of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. UAlbany’s other four wins against Division I programs this season were evenly split between teams ranked in the 200s and 300s of the NET rankings.
St. John’s, at 9-2 on the season, checked in at No. 65 in this week’s NET rankings. After playing St. John’s, UAlbany — which was No. 262, the sixth-best mark for an America East Conference team — finishes out its non-conference season playing at No. 250 Monmouth and No. 218 Columbia.
Beyond any metrics, though, St. John’s is a Big East program with a winning record — and one that America East favorite Vermont already beat this season.
“Vermont already went down there and got a win, and that was big for the America East,” UAlbany sophomore Malachi de Sousa said. “It would be big for everybody [if UAlbany could win at St. John’s], both for us and the conference.”
St. John’s is a chore of a matchup for UAlbany, even if the Red Storm’s second-leading scorer — senior Mustapha Heron — misses Wednesday’s game, as expected, with an ankle injury. Through Monday’s action, St. John’s ranked No. 23 in adjusted tempo, per kenpom.com, while UAlbany is at No. 235 in that category.
UAlbany, too, isn’t likely to be anywhere close to full strength for its trip to Queens. Among UAlbany’s 13 scholarship players, two — Jojo Anderson and Sam Shafer — are definitely out with injuries, the availability of freshman Trey Hutcheson and sophomore Antonio Rizzuto is a game-time decision, and sophomore Adam Lulka’s ankle injury continues to hinder his ability to fully contribute.
UAlbany has dealt with injuries throughout this season, in which only five of its players have played in every game, but the team badly needs as many available players as it can get to take on a St. John’s team that will look to speed up the Great Danes as much as possible.
“We’re going to have to guard,” Clark said. “Our offense is not consistent enough for us to score to win games, so we have to guard.”