Last season, the Albany Great Danes represented the America East in the 2014 NCAA Tournament after winning the conference tournament. This season, they are projected by many to be the team who will once again represent the conference in the field of 68 come March. Entering Friday night, the Great Danes were sitting comfortably atop the standings, with a 1.5 game lead over the Vermont Catamounts. The Great Danes saw their 13-game winning streak come to an end their time out in a 59 – 56 loss to the Stony Brook Seawolves. Friday night provided Albany with a great opportunity to get back on the winning track when they welcomed the Hartford Hawks to town.
Entering the 2014-15 season, the Hartford Hawks were actually projected to finish higher than the Great Danes in the preseason America East poll. Hartford was projected to finish second, while Albany was picked to finish third. However, things have not gone quite as planned for the Hawks this season. They entered Friday night having lost six of their last eight games overall, but they were coming off a win over UMBC in their last outing. With a 6 – 7 record in conference play, and a 13 – 13 record overall coming into Friday, it is highly unlikely that the Hawks will make any form of post-season tournament. With that being said, a win over the Great Danes would go a long way for the team’s confidence level as the season winds down.
Friday night wasn’t in the cards for the Hawks. They stayed right with the Great Danes, but couldn’t score a win over Albany. The Great Danes bounced back from their loss to score their 13th conference win of the year with a 70 – 64 victory over Hartford.
Both teams would open the game strong, as Corban Wroe scored the first five points of the game for the Hawks, while Albany saw four different players get on the board before the first media timeout. At the 15:38 mark, which was the media timeout, Hartford had already connected on three long balls, and took an 11 – 9 lead into the break.
Hartford held Albany off the scoreboard for over four minutes, but weren’t able to capitalize themselves on offense. They were only able to stretch the lead to four during that stretch before Evan Singletary cut the deficit to just two. They would stretch the lead to seven, thanks to a Justin Graham three pointer with under 8 to play.
Albany would go on an 8 – 0 run to get right back into the game. Ray Sanders and Sam Rowley each made two free throws, and Peter Hooley capped off the run with a layup to put Albany ahead 22 – 21 with just over 3 minutes left in the half. The back-and-forth action would continue for the rest of the half. Albany would take a two point lead with 49 seconds to play, but they were unable to hang onto the lead as the first half came to a close.
As the buzzer went off and the clock hit zeros, Albany and Hartford were all knotted up at 25 – all, setting up a great second half of basketball as these two teams jockeyed for positioning.
The second half opened with Albany making an early 8 – 4 run to take a 33 – 29 lead before the first media break of the half. Evan Singletary led the charge with four points of his own during the run. Thanks to Peter Hooley and Ray Sanders, the Great Danes would stretch the lead to 11 with just 12:22 to go.
Just when it looked like Albany was going to run away with the game, back came Hartford. They began chipping away at the lead, starting with two free throws by Justin Graham. A three-pointer from Yolonzo Moore II cut the deficit to five, then Nate Sikma cut it to four following a free throw from Evan Singletary.
They would keep chipping away, but Albany wouldn’t relinquish the lead. A three-pointer from Singletary pushed the lead back to six, then Sam Rowley later pushed it up to 7 with just under three minutes to play.
Credit Hartford for continuing to fight, as they never gave up in their pursuit to track down the Great Danes. They were able to cut the lead down to just four, but that was as close as they would get down the stretch. Timely free throw shooting for Albany allowed them to hang onto the lead and come away with a hard-earned victory on their home floor.
In the end, Albany was able to fend off Hartford to notch a 70 – 64 win over the Hawks on Friday night.
The Hartford Hawks saw three players crack double-figures on Friday night, but it wasn’t enough to lead them to a victory. Mark Nwakamma scored a team-high 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists in the loss. Justin Graham added 15 points, while Corban Wroe scored 14 of his own, but it wasn’t enough on this night.
Ray Sanders had a career night for the Great Danes, scoring a career-high 19 points in the victory. Sanders also recorded 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals for a stat-stuffing performance. Sam Rowley fell a rebound shy of a double-double, recording 11 points and 9 rebounds. Guard Peter Hooley added in 10 points off the bench to help lead Albany to their 13th conference win of the year.
The loss was another one in what has been a disappointing season for the Hartford Hawks (13 – 14, 6 – 8). The team had high expectations for this season, but haven’t quite lived up to them. They will look to close out the season strong in their next two games, starting with a road date at Maine on the 25th of February.
Add another win to the resume of the conference-leading Albany Great Danes (19 – 8, 13 – 1), who moved another step closer to the regular season title in the America East. They will look to secure the regular season title in their next time out, when they take on the UMBC Retrievers on the 25th. If they lose, and Vermont wins their next contest, the season finale on February 28h between the Great Danes and Catamounts will decide the conference title situation.