ALBANY — All in all, it was a relatively nondescript first trip through the America East Conference for the UAlbany men’s basketball team.
“I don’t think we really have a bad loss in league play,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said Monday. “We might not have played well on certain nights, but teams that are ahead of us, we lost to, [and] the teams that are below us, we beat.”
So heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. matchup with Binghamton (2-6, 8-13) at SEFCU Arena, UAlbany (5-3, 12-11) sits in fourth place in the America East as it begins its second round of games against conference foes. That position lines the Great Danes up to host at least one playoff game if they don’t fall back, but UAlbany is only a game back of Hartford (6-2, 13-10) and Stony Brook (6-2, 15-8), and two off the pace of Vermont (7-1, 17-6) with eight league games to go.
Brown views Vermont as “clearly” the best team in the conference, and it’s unlikely UAlbany has much of a chance of catching the Catamounts as long as they stay healthy. UAlbany just lost 86-75 last Saturday to Vermont, a game in which the Catamounts led by 20-plus points in the second half.
But . . .
“I think the other two games we lost are games potentially we can win when we play those teams again,” said Brown, whose team plays Feb. 12 at Hartford and Feb. 29 vs. Stony Brook.
“And I think our team wholeheartedly believes that we can beat anyone in this conference,” redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka said.
Injuries, though, have limited the Great Danes and perhaps cost them a win or two along the way this season. Lulka (ankle) could return to action as soon as the team’s game against Binghamton, but the Great Danes have only had five players appear in every game this season and have struggled to conduct full practices because of a lack of available players on a given day.
Still, Brown felt like his youthful group continued to make strides in the first half of its conference season.
“Slowly, but surely, these guys are learning and understanding what it takes to win,” said Brown, whose squad has regularly started three sophomores and freshman Trey Hutcheson in recent weeks.
In its last nine games, UAlbany has won six times, and its game at Binghamton in early January was one of two wins during that span in which the Great Danes won by more than a two-possessions advantage. In that 74-62 road win for UAlbany, Binghamton sophomore star Sam Sessoms had a solid showing with 22 points on 8 of 16 shooting, but the rest of the Bearcats made 13 of 45 shots.
At times, Hutcheson said the Great Danes struggled during its first conference games to execute its game plan. That attention to detail, he said, wasn’t necessarily there for a full 40 minutes.
“But I think that’ll improve the second time through,” Hutcheson said.
A year ago, UAlbany started conference play at 3-5. In its second trip through the league, UAlbany was 1-2 against teams it had already defeated, and 3-2 against squads it lost to the first time.
Binghamton was the lone program UAlbany swept last season. UAlbany has won its last four games against Binghamton, and the Bearcats haven’t won at SEFCU Arena since 2010.