ALBANY — They had already talked about it with each other, so UAlbany men’s basketball wing players Malachi de Sousa and Trey Hutcheson were ready Wednesday night when head coach Will Brown approached them to see if either could play at UMBC.
“We both wanted to try to give it a go,” de Sousa said after Thursday’s practice at SEFCU Arena. “We felt like we could help the team win.”
And UAlbany did that, and the unexpected presence of both de Sousa and Hutcheson in the Great Danes’ lineup had a lot to do with them securing a 67-63 road win in America East Conference play, a victory that kept UAlbany only a game behind first-place Vermont ahead of the rivals matching up Saturday at SEFCU Arena.
“The fact that both of them were able to get through that game just says a lot about them as kids,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown, whose injury-plagued team suffered its latest loss Wednesday when redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka re-injured his ankle after playing 10 minutes.
After a UMBC run tied Wednesday’s score at 56 with 2:28 to go, de Sousa (ankle) and Hutcheson (back/hip) scored UAlbany’s next nine points to put the Great Danes ahead for good. The sophomore de Sousa had seven points in that stretch, while the freshman Hutcheson made a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds. For the game, de Sousa had a team-high 15 points, while Hutcheson had 13 on a night that saw five Great Danes contribute double-digit scoring.
Brown had described de Sousa and Hutcheson as “doubtful” to play against UMBC. But, before warmups, Brown approached de Sousa and Hutcheson to see if either could play. The coach stressed that deciding to play meant agreeing to a “no-excuse mentality,” and both perimeter starters were ready for that.
“Me and Malachi knew that if we were going to put ourselves in the lineup, we had to do whatever we could to help the team win,” Hutcheson said.
After playing, Hutcheson — one of five Great Danes to play in every game this season — said he was “feeling really good” Thursday, while de Sousa said his week-old ankle injury was still an issue moving forward.
“I mean, it’s sore,” de Sousa said. “But, you know, it’ll be all right. I’ve just got to keep pushing through it.”
After missing an extended stretch of games earlier this season, Brown made it sound Thursday like Lulka could be headed toward a similar absence.
“He rolled the same ankle that he rolled earlier in the year,” Brown said of Lulka, who didn’t practice Thursday and wore a protective walking boot.
Brown said this injury was “not as bad” as the initial one, but Lulka has struggled to get back to 100% since the Nov. 16 game at Manhattan in which he was originally injured.
“We don’t expect him back any time soon,” Brown said of Lulka, who has missed nine of UAlbany’s 22 games this season.
HEALY MISSES START
For disciplinary reasons, redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy — UAlbany’s leading scorer on the season at 16.2 points per game — did not start. The guard still played 28 minutes and scored 10 points against UMBC.
“What didn’t happen with Cam?” Brown answered, initially, when asked about the absence of Healy — who wore No. 21 at UMBC instead of his usual No. 11 — from the starting lineup.
He added: “Great kid. It’s just an accountability, responsibility thing. For me, if you’re late to something, that sends a message that your time is more important than the team’s time. Nothing major. It’s just he’s got to handle his responsibilities a little bit better. It has nothing to do with academics. Has nothing to do with social. It’s just that these kids need to understand that if you’re late for a job interview, you’re not getting that job — at least, not if I’m hiring.”
Healy is the America East’s reigning player of the week. He set the program’s single-game scoring record with 41 points against UMass Lowell a week before the Great Danes’ game at UMBC.