Season Opener Goes Down to the Wire
ALBANY, N.Y. — The UAlbany men’s basketball team held off a surging Iona Gaels team defeating them 69-67 in the first game of the 2017-18 season in front of a crowd of 3,529 at SEFCU Arena Friday.
“It had a conference feel,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “We wanted to impose our will.”
Iona is a season removed from winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and making the NCAA tournament. They gave the Danes almost all that they could handle as the game wouldn’t be decided until the final seconds on free throws by David Nichols.
It was a lopsided affair in the first half as the UAlbany length gave Iona fits owning the boards outrebounding the Gaels 29-14. Great Dane senior Greig Stire pulled in seven boards in the first 20 minutes and he and fellow big man Travis Charles led all scorers with eight points apiece heading into the break. The Danes took a 34-23 lead into the locker room and figured that they could put the rest of the game on cruise control. That simply was not the case.
The Gaels came out in the second half with more energy and early on in the frame went on a 9-0 run tying the game at 38.
“We had a five-minute lull where we were enamored by a new video board,” said Brown. “I think we were watching ourselves up there thinking wow that’s awesome.”
Brown was referring to the new million-dollar scoreboard that made its SEFCU Arena debut, which was donated by Stuyvensant Plaza.
David Nichols stopped the bleeding when he pulled up for a long three-pointer with a defender in his face. He made his presence known a few times on the court knifing his way to the hoop and creating offense for himself when getting corralled by Gael defenders.
Video courtesy of Breanna Allen
“We knew this (Iona) was a good team and an experienced team that was going to make a run,” said Nichols. “We just had to weather the storm and say alright let’s regroup and let’s finish the game.”
From that point on the game was a dogfight. Iona took the lead with just over 11 minutes to play in the game when forward Rickey McGill knocked down a big three, which gave the Gaels a 44-43 advantage. The two teams traded blows and there would be nine lead changes the rest of the way.
It was Stire, Nichols, Cremo, Charles and Campbell all making an impact and scoring down the stretch as the Danes starters slowed the game down and imposed their will. Every time they needed to make a stop or a basket the veterans on this team made a play.
“Our guys executed the scouting report very well,” said Brown. “They’re playing with a bad taste in their mouths.”
Brown is referring to how the season ended last year when the Danes had an eight-point lead with five minutes left against Vermont in the America East Championship game and lost in the final seconds.
This season the team looks deeper and longer. The Great Danes had nine players check into the game in the first half, a luxury they couldn’t enjoy last season.
“I wish I played more or our new guys,” said Brown.
One newcomer that looks like an instant fit was Alex Foster, a graduate student transfer that received a lot of playing time for Texas Tech. Foster came in and was a mismatch for a smaller Iona team. He had four rebounds in just 10 minutes on the court.
“We’ve got to get Alex (Foster) more minutes and more experience,” said Brown. “He’s been outstanding.”
The Danes have a veteran nucleus with a couple pieces added in the offseason that could put them back into the America East Championship game, but it’s going to be a long road to get there. Up next the Danes travel out East to take on Boston University on Monday. Then they get a few days of and are back at SEFCU Arena next Friday to host Yale. Both teams are predicted to finish in the top tier of their respected conferences.