As winners of four of their last seven games heading into last night’s conference matchup, the UMBC Retrievers had a chance to make a little history. With a victory over Albany, UMBC would have won five of their first ten America East games for the first time since the 2007-08 season, a season in which the Retrievers last qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Instead, Albany stormed into Catonsville, MD and blew out UMBC, holding Aki Thomas’ group to 0.81 points per possession and 35.6% shooting. It was the worst home loss for UMBC in more than a year, when the Catamounts of Vermont came in and dominated the hapless Retrievers last January.
“They kept us from running our sets effectively, they kept us from moving the ball,” said Thomas. “We really try to spread teams out and move the ball and they did a good job of keeping the ball on one side of the floor.”
Albany raced out to a 17-4 lead because of their defense and the play of senior Mike Black. In his first eight minutes played, the shifty and agile Black had nine points, four rebounds, and one assist and was evidently out of the slump that had infected his game in Albany’s recent three game losing streak to Boston University, Vermont, and Stony Brook. During a stretch of four games, Black had only made nine of 57 field goal attempts, but was off to a four for five start versus the Retrievers in the early going.
But then with 11:22 left in the first half, Black came down awkwardly on his ankle after a contested layup. After laying on the ground in serious pain for about two minutes, Black was helped off the floor without bearing any weight on his right leg. He was later diagnosed with a sprained ankle, although the severity of it after the game is unknown.
“With Black only playing nine minutes and [Jacob] Iati having no baskets at the half, for us to be up 17 says a lot about the rest of our guys and the toughness that we played with tonight,” said Albany head coach Will Brown.
The team with the third best defensive efficiency rating – 92.9 points allowed per 100 possessions – in the America East held UMBC to six field goals in the first half, while forcing 11 turnovers and 22 missed field goal attempts. If it wasn’t for Brian Neller’s two three-pointers late in the first half, Albany would have enjoyed at least a 20 point advantage at the half, despite scoring 36 points.
If Albany didn’t have firm control of the game by then, however, they certainly grabbed it after embarking on a 17-4 run to begin the second half. Even though the unanimous preseason All-America East selection in Black was laying on a trainer’s table courtside with his ankle elevated, his diminutive replacement D.J. Evans filled in admirably. The former second team JUCO All-American had 12 points, four assists, and one turnover in 24 productive minutes off the bench.
“The only thing with D.J. [Evans] if you look at him is he’s not the biggest cat in the world – neither is Jacob – but he’s tough,” said Brown. “I thought he did a nice job running the show. He was a calming influence out there and he was a pest defensively, so I thought he did a good job.”
In all, 11 Great Danes scored the basketball for Brown’s squad. Freshman Peter Hooley registered ten points, eight rebounds, and six assists, while sophomore Sam Rowley filled up the stat sheet with six points, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and five steals. Through 11 America East games in fact, the 6’5″ Rowley is now averaging 10.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Brown when asked about the importance of Rowley moving forward. “We have to get him to develop a bit of a mean streak. He’s the nicest guy in the world – straight A student, a great guy – but I mean on the court he’s strong as an ox, but he’s too nice.”
Brown then joked around saying, “I have to work on my Australian slang and try to get better at some of those phrases. But Sam’s great. Sam and Peter [Hooley] have been terrific.”
For UMBC, it was the fourth straight game without the services of 6’10” center Brett Roseboro, who’s out indefinitely. As a result, UMBC was forced to play small the majority of the game, and Albany took full advantage outscoring their counterparts in the paint, 38-28, while also outrebounding them by four. Chase Plummer lead the Retrievers with 15 points on 11 shots, while making his presence felt defensively with three blocks and three steals. Guard Ryan Cook struggled with eight points on three of 12 shooting.
Albany moves to 7-4 in the America East conference, two games behind first place Stony Brook. They fly to Maine for a Saturday showdown with the 3-7 Black Bears. UMBC, now 4-6 in the conference, hosts the second place Vermont Catamounts on the same day.