In many ways, the toughest game for Albany was its 50-49 comeback win over Maine in the quarterfinals of the America East tournament Saturday night at SEFCU Arena. Frankly, the Great Danes weren’t used to having a near-capacity crowd of 4,500 on their home floor and coach Will Brown said they were “uptight and tense.”
But Albany (22-10) got the semifinal matchup it wanted against No. 1 seed Stony Brook (24-6) in Sunday’s 7 p.m. semifinal. It follows the early semifinal between Vermont (20-10) and upstart UMBC (8-22), and Brown knows the Catamounts’ fans will stick around to cheer against Stony Brook if they get past UMBC in the hope of hosting the title game next Saturday.
“This is the only time ever that Vermont will root for us,” Brown gushed. “I’d buy them some t-shirts, but they probably wouldn’t wear them.”
Actually, Brown already is heavily invested in the America East tournament. He and sponsor SEFCU split the cost of 400 student tickets at $10 apiece -- $2,000 each -- in an effort to put some student fannies in the stands. It worked, so, as soon as the Danes’ win over Maine ended, it was announced another 400 free student tickets were available in Brown’s office until 2 a.m.
By the time he arrived at the postgame press conference, Brown said, “I understand there’s 600 people waiting outside my office.” Okay, the irrepressible coach from Miller Place by way of Dowling College on Long Island has a penchant for exaggeration. After the game, he said in a radio interview it would be “David vs. Goliath” in the semis. Off the air, he leaned into the announcer and said, “You know I don’t believe that.”
But Brown isn’t kidding about the excitement building for a Stony Brook-Albany semifinal. “It’s going to be electric,” Brown said of the atmosphere…I told my guys before the tournament, eight teams have the same goal, but only one team gets to play in their building. We need to embrace it.”
When it comes to Stony Brook, the Great Danes have a pretty sizable chip on their shoulder after being eliminated the past three years by the Seawolves, who won a semifinal matchup on a tip-in at the buzzer last year in Hartford. “It’s a rivalry game because they put us out three years in a row,” Albany guard Mike Black said. “We haven’t beaten them when it counts. Hopefully, that will change…We’ll be ready for them.”
Sam Rowley, whose 19-point, eight-rebound effort led the Danes past Maine, is looking forward to homecourt advantage even though Albany must wear its road purple. “The crowd was fantastic tonight,” Rowley said. “I’m confident it will be similar Sunday, and that will elevate us.”
After he finished handing out student tickets Saturday night, Albany’s Brown promised he was going to spend the night in his office studying film of the Seawolves and preparing the game plan. “We’re excited to play Stony Brook,” Brown said. "It's huge for us to get off to a good start. At the first two media timeouts, we've got to feel good about ourselves."
Speaking of the America East Player of the Year, Brown added, “It’s important for us to do a good job on Tommy Brenton. He’s the only guy in the league who can dominate without scoring a point.”
Brown is a long-time, outspoken admirer of Brenton (pictured), but maybe that remark was a little jab at the fact Brenton had only one point in the Seawolves’ 72-49 quarterfinal rout of Binghamton. Who knows what was in Brown’s mind? But one thing for sure is that Brown and the Great Danes will never have a better opportunity to upset Stony Brook in the America East tourney than the one they get Sunday night.