ALBANY — After battling one injury after another throughout its non-conference season, the UAlbany men’s basketball team finally has its full complement of players — well, almost — available.
So it’s no coincidence that the Great Danes have won three games in a row, the last two to start America East Conference play, which continues 7 p.m. Wednesday at New Hampshire. After regularly playing games during the non-conference season with multiple scholarship players unavailable, the Great Danes used eight players in Saturday’s win for at least 10 minutes.
During that victory against Maine, UAlbany used an uncharacteristic full-court, man-to-man defense at several points. The ploy was meant to speed up a Maine squad that plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but it was only a possibility for the Great Danes to use because of their much-improved depth from just weeks ago.
“It’s something that we’ve been looking at and talking about, but not something we do a lot,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said Tuesday. “We hadn’t done it in games prior. We felt we needed to do it against [Maine]; otherwise, they’d just walk the ball up the floor and take seconds off the clock every possession.”
So UAlbany isn’t set to become a team that presses full court every possession — but that it even has the capability to apply some pressure when it wants to change a game’s tempo shows a change for the better for the Great Danes from even just a few weeks ago.
“You’re not going to see us do the old Nolan Richardson, ‘40 minutes of Hell,’ mentality,” said Brown, referencing the coach who used a fast-paced style to win a national championship in 1994 with Arkansas. “We’re not built that way. We don’t have the athletes to play that way — but we can pick and choose our spots.”
After it seemed like nearly every UAlbany player spent some time battling an injury during the non-conference season, UAlbany is only still without redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (shoulder) and junior walk-on Rian Carter (knee). Senior guard Ahmad Clark (back, thumb) is battling a couple different ailments, but there is no expectation he’ll miss any time, while redshirt junior guard Jojo Anderson (knee) and redshirt sophomore forward Adam Lulka (ankle) continue to make progress as they play in more games.
With a win at New Hampshire (1-2, 8-8), UAlbany (2-0, 9-8) potentially positions itself for a matchup of 3-0 America East squads this weekend. The Great Danes play Saturday at Stony Brook (2-0, 12-6), which plays Wednesday at Hartford (2-0, 9-8). While his team has made positive strides in the last few weeks, Brown said the Great Danes aren’t allowing themselves to think beyond their next opponent.
“We’re not good enough to look past anyone,” Brown said, “and I’ve made that clear to our guys.”
After Saturday’s win vs. Maine, redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy said the Great Danes get that message.
“We’re 2-0,” Healy said, “but there’s always room for improvement.”
‘HE UNDERSTANDS SCOUTS’
As a redshirt freshman, Brent Hank played in 31 games and started 30 of them at center for the Great Danes.
But his statistical contributions were minimal, as he averaged 1.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game. When this season started, Hank was rarely — if ever — mentioned as a candidate to play significant minutes, and Brown said as much during the preseason when the coach noted he “can’t put a guy on the floor that cannot score the ball.”
So Hank — who dealt with an elbow injury earlier this season — only played three total minutes in UAlbany’s first three games this season against Division I opponents. He started, though, against Quinnipiac because of the Great Danes’ injury woes . . . and, now, has started 12 of UAlbany’s last 13 games, as the 6-foot-10 Hank has re-emerged as a key rotation player because of his abilities on the defensive end of the court.
“He understands scouts. He understands what he needs to do, and his limitations,” Brown said. “With [Lulka] getting hurt, I think that opened up an opportunity for Brent. He’s our best defensive front-court guy.”
Healy continued his career-long streak of making at least one 3-pointer against Maine, but game No. 49 in that streak saw Healy struggle from downtown.
The guard made 1 of 9 shots from 3-point territory. Healy’s 11.1% accuracy from 3-point territory represented a career-worst showing for a player who has made 39.9% of his 3-point attempts in his career.
“He’ll knock down some shots next game, for sure,” Brown said Saturday of Healy.