MBB survives semifinal scare from UNH
By Aaron Cheris
March 10, 2015
Basketball is often described as a game of inches. On Sunday afternoon, the University at Albany and University of New Hampshire found that out first hand.
As time expired, UNH’s Jaleen Smith was able to put a 3-pointer in the air that would have sent the Wildcats to the America East Championship. Smith’s shot hit the rim, bounced off the backboard, and landed harmlessly on the SEFCU Arena floor.
The Great Danes held on to beat UNH 60-58 on Sunday afternoon in the America East semifinals. The win means that UAlbany will host the America East Championship game on Saturday, with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
“They don’t ask you how you won. They ask you if you won,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said. “Now we’ve got one game in our building, in front our people, for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
From the opening tip, it was clear this game would be a struggle for both teams. The teams traded baskets early, but the Wildcats jumped out to an early 8-3 lead.
A couple minutes later, the Great Danes (23-8) were able to take the lead. Evan Singletary made a shot, and then Sam Rowley stole the ball off the UNH (19-12) inbounds pass. Rowley made a layup to put the Great Danes up. Sam Rowley finished with just eight points on the afternoon.
“They did a really good job on Sam Rowley,” Brown said. “They’re real physical with him.”
With Rowley struggling, fellow Australian Peter Hooley stepped up for UAlbany. In the first half, with about seven minutes left in the half, Hooley hit a contested 3-pointer to give the Great Danes a four point lead. Hooley kept the Great Danes close in the first half. He registered 15 points in the half, including three 3-pointers.
Toward the end of the half, the Wildcats kept things close with 3-pointers by Jaleen Smith and Frank Okeke and they finished the first half on top 35-32.
“Every time we tried to open it up a little bit, they made some big shots,” Brown said of the Wildcats. “In the second half, the big difference is we decided to play defense.”
The second half started similar to the first. After Matt Miller made a 3-pointer for the Wildcats, Singletary made a layup while getting fouled to send the crowd at SEFCU Arena to its feet. He then made the free throw to complete the old fashioned 3-point play. Singletary finished with 18 points and eight rebounds for UAlbany.
“It was really the bigs boxing out that got me eight rebounds,” Singletary said. “This game was crazy.”
The game continued to go down to the wire, as neither team led by more than six points.
“You know they’re never going to go away,” Hooley said. “We had to weather the storm and grind it out.”
As the second half got closer to the finish, UAlbany forced UNH to commit fouls that sent the Great Danes to the free throw line. With about five minutes left, Mike Rowley pulled off a spin move usually seen by his older brother, and then made a shot while getting fouled to send most of the 4,122 at SEFCU Arena into a frenzy.
With seconds left in the game, Ray Sanders went to the free throw line for two shots. He made 1 of 2 shots to give the Great Danes a two-point lead. Off the ensuing inbound, Smith sent his prayer toward the basket. Unfortunately for the visitors, the prayer wasn’t answered and UAlbany could celebrate another win.
Now, the Great Danes will host the America East Championship game for the first time in nearly a decade. Trying to take the title from the Great Danes will be the Stony Brook Seawolves.
Last year, UAlbany beat Stony Brook 69-60 in the America East Championship game at Stony Brook’s Pritchard Gym. This season, UAlbany and Stony Brook split the season series. UAlbany won at Stony Brook 64-47 on Jan. 14 before falling to the Seawolves 59-56 on Feb. 17. The rematch is a game that UAlbany won’t take lightly.
“They’re tough. They’re the only team to beat us in the conference,” Hooley said. “They’re going to come ready to go. They’ll be wanting to get revenge.”
“One team in this league has beaten us this year and they beat us in our building,” Brown said of Stony Brook. “We have all the motivation in the world to play. They’re in our way for an opportunity to get to the NCAA Tournament.”
The Great Danes’ dream of a three-peat has come down to one final matchup against the rival Seawolves. In order to make that dream a reality, Brown and his team will need to stop Jameel Warney, America East Player of the Year.
“We’re going to have to do a good job on Warney, he’s going to get his [points], but we have to make Warney work for his,” Brown said about his strategy to beat Stony Brook. “We better do a good job on their other players.”
“It’s going to be a good ballgame,” Brown said.
If the first two matchups were any indication, Brown will be correct with that statement.
The America East Championship game will tip off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 14 at SEFCU Arena. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.