Men’s Basketball cruises past NJIT in home opener
By Zachary Gaylis
Senior Staff Writer
Nov. 20, 2014
The University at Albany men’s basketball team sent the home crowd home happy for the first time this season after defeating the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders by a final score of 65-48 in their home opener on Wednesday night. Coming off a nationally televised 64-60 loss to open the season at Big East powerhouse Providence College, the Great Danes were poised to bounce back and get on a winning track. Though determined to get a victory, the Danes knew they would have their hands full with the Highlanders, who gave the Great Danes problems last year with their strong shooting abilities.
The first five minutes of the first half were sloppy and sluggish, as both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm offensively. The two teams combined for four total points, two of which were made free throws by the Highlanders. It was quite apparent the Great Danes were trying to do too much early, committing three turnovers and failing to move the ball well.
However, a little shouting from head coach Will Brown was exactly what they needed, sparking a fire in the team to settle down and assert their style of play on the court. “I thought we were a bit antsy and nervous to start. I think our guys were excited to come out in front of the home crowd and play their best,” Brown said of his team’s early struggles.
The Danes began to move the ball efficiently, working the ball from side to side and making wise decisions with their shot selections. Senior forward and team captain Sam Rowley and freshmen guard Wheeler Baker led the way for the Great Danes in the first half with 12 and 10 points respectively. Both players showed flashes of brilliance throughout the game.
Rowley’s highlight came seven minutes into the first half, when he converted off a spin move from down on the right block, leaving his defender guarding nothing but thin air. Although he would not score in the second half, Rowley continued to exert his presence with strong rebounding and defensive energy.
Baker, a native of St. Paul, Minn. and the Great Danes’ top recruit, wowed the fans with his NBA range from beyond the arc. He would connect on the first three-point field goal of the game, giving the Great Danes a double-digit lead at 16-5. From then on, UAlbany would never look back.
After what coach Brown called a, “phenomenal performance,” at Providence by junior guard Evan Singletary, the new starting point guard for the Great Danes struggled to find his scoring touch against the Highlanders. However, Singletary demonstrated why coach Brown has chosen him to be the team’s new floor general. He does an excellent job breaking opponents’ pressure and setting up the offense, and was able to make up for his poor shooting performance with his six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
The first half would end in dramatic fashion, seeing a Highlanders turnover turn into and-one layup by Danes center Richard Peters with three seconds remaining. Peters would convert the three-point play, giving the Great Danes a 33-15 lead heading into the break. The Highlanders struggled throughout the half to find the basket, shooting a lowly 17.9 percent from the field and 1-14 from beyond the arc. Highlanders guard Damon Lynn, the teams’ leading scorer from a season ago (17.1 ppg), was unable to provide any spark, going 2-11, yet leading the Highlanders with seven points. After committing three turnovers in the first five minutes of the half, the Great Danes would only commit two more for the remaining 15 minutes.
The second half saw a much different Highlanders team. From the very start the team’s passion and intensity was evident. The ball movement was seemingly crisper, and they were getting good looks at the basket. Damon Lynn came out firing in the second half for NJIT, converting on back to back three point attempts to cut the UAlbany lead to 12. He would finish with a game-high 20 points.
The Highlanders change in play proved to be too little too late, as the Great Danes continued their strong play, preventing any legitimate momentum from shifting to the Highlanders. After scoring just two points in the first half, Great Danes junior and starting guard Peter Hooley came to life in the second half. He scored eight points and helped keep the Danes’ lead afloat.
The second half featured two highlight reel plays by the Great Danes. The first came at the 11-minute mark on an Evan Singletary block. Singletary ran the length of the court on a Highlanders fast break and skied for the rejection, leading to cheers from many of the 2,583 fans who attended.
Unfortunately for Singletary, his block was outmatched by his teammate’s strong play. The play of the game came with just under two minutes remaining, as freshman Wheeler Baker drove to the basket and slammed down a one-handed jam, electrifying the crowd and sending the UAlbany bench to its feet.
“It felt great to contribute to the win. We all need to come in and play our roles and I’m happy I was able to contribute tonight. My scoring comes second. Most importantly it’s about the team,” Baker said.
Peter Hooley believes the freshman is an important part of the team’s success. “He’s really embraced his role and he’s going to be big for us down the stretch,” Hooley said.
The Great Danes certainly did not disappoint their fans in this one. Their excitement and intensity paved the way for a strong performance all-around. The starting lineup played well and was complimented by key bench contributions. Consensus player of the game recipient Baker finished with 15 points, and was 3-5 from three-point range. Look for him play an integral role in the team’s success this season.
Up next, the Great Danes will look to start their first winning streak of the season when they face Quinnipiac at SEFCU Arena on Saturday night at 7 p.m.