ALBANY — Vermont will score first in Tuesday’s America East Conference men’s basketball game against UAlbany in Burlington.
Great Danes head coach Will Brown knows that, and is eager to see it happen.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been excited about an opponent scoring a basket on us,” Brown said after Monday’s practice at SEFCU Arena. “I’ll be rooting for him to do that.”
That “him” is Josh Speidel, who will suit up and start in his first college game at 7 p.m. Tuesday as part of the Catamounts’ senior-night celebration. Speidel was involved in a car crash during his senior year of high school in Indiana that left him with a traumatic brain injury and in a coma for several weeks. On track to graduate this spring, Speidel will participate in Tuesday’s senior night, and Vermont head coach John Becker and Brown agreed weeks ago that UAlbany will concede the game’s opening tip-off to Vermont so that Speidel can score his career’s first points to start the game at Patrick Gymnasium.
Brown said “it took about a second” for him to agree to the plan, which will also see Vermont allow UAlbany to score a game-tying basket after Speidel’s make.
“It’s a tremendous thing what Vermont is doing,” Brown said. “I think they’re creating a positive lifetime memory for Josh and his family, and I’m glad we can partake in it.”
Brown said he’ll keep his players on the floor to watch Vermont’s pregame ceremony honoring its seniors, too.
“I think that’s the right thing to do,” said Brown, whose program’s senior night was last weekend. “I know a lot of coaches don’t want to sit out there, they want to bring their team in the locker room, but I think it’s the right thing to do, and my guys will support their seniors — especially Josh Speidel.
“And,” Brown said, “I’m looking forward to him scoring that basket against us.”
UAlbany (7-8, 14-16) will look to snap a four-game losing streak at conference-leading Vermont (13-2, 23-7) in the regular-season finale for both teams. While it wasn’t long ago that the Great Danes controlled their own path to securing a No. 2 seed for the conference’s playoffs, UAlbany will be seeded anywhere from No. 4 to No. 7 depending on outcomes around the league Tuesday night from its game, UMass Lowell’s trip to New Hampshire and UMBC’s home game against Stony Brook.
With a win at Vermont — a program that’s defeated UAlbany in eight consecutive matchups — the Great Danes will earn the No. 4 seed if both New Hampshire and UMBC lose. UAlbany will take the No. 5 seed if it wins and one of New Hampshire or UMBC loses. UAlbany will end up at No. 6 if it wins, and both New Hampshire and UMBC win, or if the Great Danes lose and UMass Lowell loses. UAlbany will be the No. 7 seed if it loses and UMass Lowell wins.
Brown said his group will handle whatever road it ends up needing to take.
“We have to stay together, and we have to hang tough and realize we have one game left in the regular season,” said Brown, whose team starts postseason play Saturday. “And, then, everybody’s slate gets wiped clean heading into the conference tournament.”
Since missing his team’s Feb. 12 loss at Hartford with a hip/back injury, UAlbany redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy — his team’s leading scorer on the season until several games ago — has made 8 of 42 shots overall and 4 of 27 3-point attempts since returning to the team’s lineup.
“It’s the biggest slump I’ve ever been in,” Healy said.
Before missing that game against Hartford, Healy had made 40.8% of his shots and 37.7% of his 3-point attempts. Helped by a shooting machine, he stayed after practice Monday to take some extra shots.
“I’m working every day, and I’m going to come out of it,” Healy said. “I’m going to keep shooting.”
Healy said he’s feeling fine physically and credited his recent shooting woes to being “more mental than anything.” Sophomore Malachi de Sousa, too, said his recent offensive struggles have nothing to do with any flaws in his shooting form.
“I’ve just got to start shooting it,” de Sousa said. “I’ve been scared to shoot any shot offensively, honestly.”
While de Sousa has only made 24.1% of his 3-point attempts this season, he’s only taken a dozen 3-point attempts — and missed all of them — in his last seven games despite opposing teams allowing him to shoot that shot with little resistance. Moving forward, de Sousa said he needs to shoot with confidence.
“Don’t shoot to not miss it,” de Sousa said. “You’ve got to shoot to make it.”
Brown said redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka (concussion) won’t play at Vermont.