The impressive crowd came to see PC unveil its 2014 Big East championship banner and to celebrate in style, but a gritty Albany team consistently quieted the fans. Every time PC looked ready to seize control, Albany had an answer.
“This was a culture win,” observed head coach Ed Cooley. “We’ve been through so many tough games that our experienced players know how to win.”
Sometimes the best wins are the wins that happen when you don’t play well. If that’s the case, then Saturday’s win is a good one. PC did not play well, either offensively or defensively. That they were able to record a win despite that, against a good team, is certainly a positive sign. But the negatives far outweighed the positives.
When asked what he liked about his team in this game, Cooley replied, “That we won.” That was about the extent of his positive comments. The simple truth is that the Friars never really had control of this game, and one of the biggest reasons was poor free throw shooting.
PC was 4-11 in the first half and finished 12-24, but only reached 50 percent because they hit their last four, all of which were huge, pressure-packed free throws – which is good. But, to be 8-20 prior to that – not so good, and one big reason why Albany was able to hang around.
“We made so many mistakes,” said Cooley. “We had no cohesiveness on offense and made so many mistakes on defense. We missed so many layups. We’ll clean that up, but to do so, you need game minutes, not practice minutes.”
In the first half, PC jumped out to its biggest lead, at 16-8 with ten minutes to go. But Albany roared back, and grabbed the lead, 25-23, on a layup by Peter Hooley with 3:27 to play. They extended that lead to four before Junior Lomomba hit a driving layup off a steal at the buzzer to cut the lead to 27-26 at the half.
In the first half, Cooley substituted freely, going nine deep, as he played with different combinations, looking for a spark. In the second half, he cut the rotation dramatically, not playing Lomomba or Paschal Chukwu and giving Jalen Lindsey only two minutes. As a result, LaDontae Henton played 38 minutes and Tyler Harris and Kyron Cartwright each played 34, while Kris Dunn played 32.
“I don’t want Henton playing 38 and Harris playing 34, but you do what you have to do to win the game,” said Cooley. Clearly, Cooley was not expecting Albany to push his team to the brink, thereby limiting his spread of minutes. “We have young guys who were in high school last year. They’re freshmen who have played one game, then they become freshmen who have played 5 games, then freshmen who have played 20 games. Eventually they get it, but right now I have to just throw them out there and tell them I love them.”
The seesaw contest continued in the second half. Albany’s last lead came at 53-52 with 4:50 left on a driving layup by Evan Singletary. The Juco transfer gave PC fits all night with his quickness and speed and scored 16 in the second half, as neither Cartwright nor Dunn could stay in front of him. In addition Hooley, with 15 points, hurt PC with drives to the hoop and Mike Rowley, with 8 points, hit several big midrange jumpers. Albany’s best big man, Sam Rowley, was in foul trouble most of the night, but battled inside for 7 rebounds.
A three pointer by Tyler Harris with :48 left gave PC a 60-55 lead and a bit of breathing room, but Singletary answered quickly with a three of his own. With :32 left, Dunn, who had been scoreless up until that point, buried two big free throws, and when Hooley answered with two freebies, PC’s lead was 62-60 with :18 remaining. The Friars played keepaway, until Harris was fouled with six seconds left and the big man knocked down his two to ice the game.
While free throws hurt PC, there were other troublesome areas as well. The rebounding battle was dead even, at 36-36, despite PC having a big size advantage. Only Henton, with 11 boards, consistently hit the glass, although Ben Bentil (4 points, 6 rebounds) did come up with a huge rebound late in the game.
The Friars were led by Harris, with 23 points (18 in the second half) and Henton with 21. Cartwright had 8, with 5 assists, but struggled with his outside shot. However, the freshman is fearless and not afraid to take a big shot. He also had a couple of impressive finishes on drives to the hoop.
His backcourt mate, Dunn (2 points, 2 rebounds), struggled terrifically. “You saw a lot of rust out there with Kris,” Cooley said. Dunn shot 0-5 and had 4 turnovers against 2 assists. He missed badly on his one jumper and was able to get to the rim four times but couldn’t finish. In addition, he wasn’t able to impose his will defensively. The ability is obviously there but it could take time.
The Friars have a quick turnaround, with a 9 p.m. game on Monday versus Binghamton. “You will see a much improved product on Monday night,” promised Cooley. “We are a work in progress. It’s a process but we’ll get there.”
ALBANY GIVES FRIARS A SCARE
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