Stony Brook has knocked Albany out of the America East playoffs each of the past two seasons, but Great Danes all-conference performer Gerardo Suero still was rooting for the Seawolves when they fell behind last-place Binghamton in the second half of a quarterfinal game Saturday at Hartford University's Chase Family Arena.
"I didn't want Binghamton," Suero said. "We wanted to play Stony Brook. That's the team we want to beat."
Suero (pictured against Stony Brook) got his wish. SBU came back to score a 78-69 win, and then Suero, the fifth-leading Division I scorer in the nation, had 24 points and nine rebounds to lead Albany to a 63-45 rout of fifth-seeded New Hampshire. So, the Danes (19-13) will tackle No. 1 Stony Brook (21-8) in a semifinal matchup at 5 p.m. Sunday, and if the Seawolves win, they will host the championship game at 11 a.m. next Saturday.
On paper, Stony Brook should be a solid favorite after sweeping the season series, especially since Albany's Logan Aronhalt, a third-team all-conference player, is severely limited by a knee injury that will require surgery as soon as the season ends. But the rivalry between these SUNYsister schools is not easily contained to paper. Just ask Stony Brook's football team, which had to go into overtime to get past an upstart Great Danes team in the first round of the FCS playoffs last December.
"We beat Stony Brook twice last year, but they put us out when it counts," said Danes second-team all-conference guard Mike Black, who had 11 points and 4 assists against New Hampshire. "They beat us twice this year, so hopefully, we can return the favor."
Anticipating a physical game with the Seawolves, 6-9 Albany center Blake Metcalfe added, "That's a team you've got to match physically with [Dallis] Joyner and [Tommy] Brenton. The more physical team will win."
Those sentiments were echoed by Albany coach Will Brown, who said the Great Danes "will have a good chance to win if we rebound the basketball…The big thing is the glass, and we need to know where [SBU leading scorer] Bryan Dougher is at all times. Also, their bench beat us the last time we played."
Brown said he was uncertain until game time whether Aronhalt and Luke Devlin could even play with their injuries. Aronhalt manged only eight minutes and shot 1 for 6, and Devlin scored four points in 12 minutes. Aronhalt, who is averaging 13.8 points per game, has been playing basically one leg much of the season and barely has gotten on the court the past three weeks.
"It hurts me to put him out there, but I owe it to him to get him a couple of minutes," Brown said. "He's a tough matchup when he's healthy, but our little man Jacob Iati is shooting lights out right now." Iati was 3 of 5 from three-point range for 9 points against New Hampshire.
Albany shot only 36.2 percent overall but hit 8 of 19 three-pointers, which is the formula that helped Binghamton stay in its quarterfinal game with the Seawolves. Despite his team's injury problems, Brown was optimistic about the Great Danes' chances of pulling an upset.
Reverting to a boxing analogy for the physical game he anticipates, Brown said, "We need to speed up the tempo. It can't be a slugfest. If it's like Ali-Frazier, we're in trouble. We want to be like Sugar Ray Leonard and dance and run up and down."
After getting a wakeup call from Binghamton, the Seawolves should be geared up for a tough semifinal matchup against a team they respect. Anticipating a date with Albany, Stony Brook guard Dave Coley said, "It will be an aggressive game. Albany has a great player in Suero. He's a lot to handle. We've got to watch film and prepare."