ALBANY — On Wednesday night, the UAlbany and UMBC men’s basketball teams will face each other.
For much of the 2019-20 season, though, the pair of America East Conference programs have battled the same issue. Both teams have struggled to keep their players healthy enough to play in games.
“But we’ve been able to practice more recently,” UMBC head coach Ryan Odom said Tuesday night in a phone interview.
UAlbany head coach Will Brown cut short his team’s Monday practice because the Great Danes didn’t have enough healthy scholarship players to do 5-on-5 work, a problem Odom’s squad faced for nearly all of the non-conference season.
“We had trouble having eight, much less 10, guys out there to practice,” Odom said.
Odom’s team is without a few players for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home game because they’re out with season-ending injuries, but has his full complement of players beyond that. Meanwhile, UAlbany — which lost redshirt junior Jojo Anderson for the season last week — appears likely to play at UMBC without two would-be starters in sophomore Malachi de Sousa and freshman Trey Hutcheson, players Brown referred to Tuesday in a text message as “doubtful” to play. While de Sousa (ankle) missed UAlbany’s last game and was a long shot to play at UMBC, the status of Hutcheson (back) represents a change from when Brown described the freshman Monday as “questionable” to play.
UMBC has only had three players appear in every game this season, while UAlbany has had five do that. UMBC (2-4, 9-12) has won its last two games after losing its first four league games, and UAlbany (4-2, 11-10) has managed to stay above .500 in the league and overall despite dealing with one injury after another.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” UAlbany redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy said Monday, hours after being named the league’s player of the week. “We’re still optimistic.”
UAlbany, though, is coming off a loss and plays conference-leading Vermont this Saturday. A win at UMBC is critical for the Great Danes to secure in order to head into the weekend without needing to worry about falling back to .500 in conference play.
Brown said the Great Danes, though, won’t try to rush any of their hurting players into action at UMBC.
“We have to not be consumed with the short-term, and worry about the long-term,” Brown said.
The short-term concern, though, is getting the Great Danes’ offense back on track at UMBC. After UAlbany scored 101 points in a win last week against UMass Lowell, the Great Danes only offered 48 in a weekend loss to Hartford. In that defeat, UAlbany’s ball movement wasn’t crisp and the team “got very impatient” with how it worked for shots.
“If we can get one ball reversal, we’ll be in good shape,” Brown said of Wednesday at UMBC. “If we can get two, I think we’ll have some really good looks and then we just have to knock them down.”
Against Hartford, UAlbany stars Healy and senior Ahmad Clark struggled. Clark scored eight points on 3 of 12 shooting, while Healy — who scored a program-record 41 points against UMass Lowell — had 10 points on 2 of 13 shooting. Combined, they had 14 turnovers.
“The way we’re constructed, it’s pretty simple,” Brown said. “If Healy and Clark are both shooting it well and scoring it well on the same night, we’re tough to beat. If one of them is doing that, we have a chance. If neither of them are doing it, we’re in trouble.”
On the season, Clark and Healy are averaging a combined 32.5 points, while the rest of UAlbany’s roster averages 36 points per game. Odom said his team understands the challenge Clark and Healy present, but that UMBC cannot solely focus on slowing those two Great Danes.
“It starts there,” Odom said, “but the other guys are good, too.”