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Seawolves Hand Danes Reality Check

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ALBANY N.Y. — The men’s basketball team fell 72-65 to conference foe Stony Brook in the 2017 Big Purple Growl in front of a sold out crowd at SEFCU Arena on Saturday night.

In the first half it seemed as if it were anyone’s ballgame. The lead changed 11 times, with the Danes holding a 30-29 advantage heading into halftime. After intermission the tide changed, and the Seawolves ripped off a 12-4 run and. The Danes could not recover and would not reclaim a lead for the rest of the game.

“I thought Stony Brook did a good job at not allowing us to get into any offensive rhythm,” said University at Albany’s head coach Will Brown after the game.

Stony Brook’s defense limited the Danes to shooting 36 percent from the floor in the second half. It didn’t help that the team’s leading scorer, David Nichols, and leading rebounder, Greig Stire fouled out while their teammates tried to make a comeback.

“I think sometime I just get a little over-aggressive maybe,” said Stire, who often fights foul trouble. “I think that’s something that I need to work on–keeping myself out of foul trouble.” Despite the early exit, Stire managed to lead the Danes in scoring for the first time this season (15 points).

Nichols fouled out only one other time this year, and it was in the Stony Brook game down on Long Island in early January. In that game, the point guard fouled out, leaving the Danes frantically searching for a steady ballhandler. They failed to find it, resulting in Stony Brook’s magical 21-0 run to come back and stun the Danes.  In Saturday’s meeting the Danes sparked a 9-3 run of their own to close the game, but it wasn’t enough. UAlbany cut the deficit to four points via a pair of Dallas Ennema threes with 46 seconds left. The Seawolves then made a free throw to extend the lead to five. Cremo, the primary ballhandler with Nichols on the bench, failed to convert on a drive to the basket, effectively ending UAlbany’s comeback hopes.

Despite having four different players (Joe Cremo, Devonte Campbell, Nichols and Stire) in double-figures, UAlbany failed to make plays when they needed them most. Cremo and Nichols (14 and 10 points, respectively) couldn’t get their games going all night, a credit to staunch on-the-ball defense by the Stony Brook guards.

Like most rivalry games, it was a chippy battle between two teams who dislike each other. A few questionable calls/no-calls–especially involving Stire and Nichols–created a hostile environment of over 4,000 unhappy fans. It was the most heavily attended game at SEFCU this season besides the November Albany Cup battle with Siena.

“What a great college atmosphere for a basketball game,” said Jeff Boals, head coach of the Seawolves, who is now in his first season after Steve Pikiell left for a new job at Rutgers. “We don’t play in front of many crowds like that this year.”

Boals, a former assistant on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State, coached in front of huge Big Ten crowds before, so it didn’t appear as if the hostile environment fazed him.

“We knew it would be a tough environment with the Big Purple Growl,” Boals said. It didn’t seem to get to Stony Brook’s leading scorer either. Lucas Woodhouse poured in 23 to lead all scorers.

UAlbany has a hasty turnaround and is back on the road to take on New Hampshire on Monday.  The Danes lost to the Wildcats 75-67 at home on Jan. 11. This will be the third game in a row where the Danes square off with an opponent that defeated them earlier in the season.

“It’s not getting any easier for us on Monday,” Brown said. “If we go up there feeling sorry for ourselves we’re gonna get smacked.”

New Hampshire is a half game up on Albany in the America East standings. UAlbany has six games left before the America East tournament. If the Danes want to host any games in the postseason, the room for error is minuscule. They have to run the table.

“We’ve got to continue to get better because we have room for growth,” Brown said. “We’re kind of where I expected us to be.”

After graduating three all-conference players in Peter Hooley, Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders, UAlbany’s youth and lack of experience has shown at times throughout the season. They rely heavily on Cremo and Nichols–both 19-year old sophomores, for much of their scoring production. UAlbany hopes to work through them by the end of the season, but Coach Brown knows growing pains come with the situation.

“I didn’t expect us to start the season 0-3, but where we’re at right now, whether anyone likes it or not, I’m not surprised,” Brown said.

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