ALBANY — Can’t dwell on it.
There’s no point in doing that, and no time to do it, anyway.
What happened in its regular season’s final weeks happened, and the UAlbany men’s basketball program can only move forward into a future that starts with a 7 p.m. playoff game Saturday at rival Stony Brook.
“Even though we had a rough past couple weeks, it’s a whole new season now,” UAlbany freshman Trey Hutcheson said at Thursday’s practice. “We need to win three games, but we have to take it one game at a time. We have to handle that intensity.”
UAlbany failed to handle the close of its regular season well, as the Great Danes lost five consecutive games. That losing streak sent the Great Danes from fighting for the America East Conference’s No. 2 seed to playing against it in this weekend’s quarterfinals. Stony Brook (No. 2, 19-12) defeated UAlbany (No. 7, 14-17) twice during the regular season, but the Great Danes were competitive in both those games. UAlbany lost by eight points in its mid-January trip to Island Federal Credit Union Arena and by three at SEFCU Arena last weekend, and the Great Danes understand the game ahead of them is the only one that matters now.
“And we all know we can win,” Hutcheson said.
“Any team we play in the tournament, we’re capable of beating,” UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark said. “Had two tough losses to them earlier in the season — especially on senior night here, we lost by one possession. So we’ve just got to clean up the things that we made mistakes on defensively and just make more shots. Just play confident, with each other, and we’ll be all right.”
UAlbany hasn’t won a conference tournament game since it advanced to the America East final in 2017. Great Danes head coach Will Brown’s squad doesn’t start its postseason run from the best position to change that, but the veteran coach has been involved with enough conference tournaments to know that means little.
“One team’s going to the NCAA tournament [from the America East] and whatever happened in the regular season has nothing to do with who is going to win the conference tournament,” Brown said. “Yes, certain teams have a home-court advantage. Does that help? It definitely doesn’t hurt. With that being said, you have to show up, you have to play well and you have to find a way to win.”
During Thursday’s America East conference call with reporters, Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford pointed out that the league ranked last this season in terms of its teams having a home-court advantage. Within conference play, America East home teams finished 72-72 in a parity-rich season that saw seven clubs record at least seven league wins for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
“They,” Ford said of the Great Danes, “are going to come in here with confidence.”
“We believe,” Clark said, “we can beat anybody on any given night.”
What hurt most the Great Danes during the second half of conference play, though, is a problem that hasn’t yet been fixed, and that’s been how redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy (hip/back) has seen his season derailed since needing to depart early from his team’s Feb. 5 win vs. Binghamton and miss the club’s Feb. 12 loss at Hartford. Healy only missed that one game, but his shot hasn’t been the same since his injury — which first came up late in the non-conference season — worsened in that win vs. Binghamton.
Starting with that Feb. 5 victory, Healy has averaged five points per game on 18.5% shooting in his last seven games. Prior to that, Healy had averaged 16.4 points per game on 41.1% shooting.
Still, Ford said Healy is a “major concern” for the Stony Brook defense.
“We’re going to give him the utmost attention, as he deserves, because that kid is obviously a tough kid and has played through injury pretty much the whole season,” Ford said.
Without Healy scoring at his usual level, UAlbany has needed to depend even more on Clark, who was named a second-team all-conference selection Friday. Clark averaged 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists during the regular season. Besides Clark, earning honors from UAlbany were Hutcheson who was selected to the league’s all-rookie team and redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka who garnered a spot on the all-academic team.
Senior Anthony Lamb of top-seeded Vermont was named the league’s player of the year, while Stony Brook junior Elijah Olaniyi joined Lamb and three others on the first team. Stony Brook junior Andrew Garcia was on the second team along with Clark.
UAlbany is expected to play without Lulka (concussion) against Stony Brook, while sophomore Malachi de Sousa (ankle/Achilles' tendon) is questionable.
Hutcheson said UAlbany’s losing streak did “drain” the Great Danes, but that they’re ready to start fresh.
“There’s nothing for us to lose, really, so no reason not to go all out and get a win for our seniors,” Hutcheson said.