By Kevin Sweeney
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
An otherwise somber crowd applauded appreciatively as a tearful Peter Hooley shared embraces with his teammates and coach Will Brown as he exited the game for the final time of his college career. After 3 straight America East titles, including last year’s emotional win over Stony Brook in which Hooley hit the game-winner, this season was supposed to be a last hurrah of sorts. This season’s Great Danes team had aspirations of another Big Dance appearance, and maybe even the first Round of 64 victory in program history.
A dominant first half, as well as some big shots late, helped Hartford end those Albany championship aspirations before they really began on Tuesday night, earning a 68-59 victory at SEFCU Arena.
In that first half, the Hawks used hot shooting and good defense to run out to a 38-21 halftime lead. Hartford knocked down an incredible 9-17 shots from downtown in the first half. It was junior guard Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas who led the barrage for the Hawks, nailing 4-7 from 3 in the first half. This first half deficit proved to much for Albany to recover from in the second half.
Brown expressed frustration with his team’s first half performance, saying “we lost that game in the first half.”
“We just dug ourselves to big a hole.” Peter Hooley added, echoing his coach’s sentiments.
Albany went into the locker room knowing that it would be necessary to start strong in the second half if they had any chance of coming back. They did so, quickly getting the deficit down to 12, but were unable to sustain a push. The Hartford lead hovered around 12 for much of the second half. With 5 minutes to go, the Albany deficit was 13. The Danes made one final push, using a 10-2 run to shrink the gap to just 5 points. However, on the ensuing possession, Hartford ran down nearly the entire shot clock before finding an open J.R. Lynch for a 3. Lynch calmly drained the dagger triple in what seemed to be the knockout punch for the Danes.
What makes this outcome even more shocking is that just 4 days ago, the teams met on the same floor. In that match-up, the Danes won fairly easily, beating the Hawks 75-59. However, both coach John Gallagher and Pancake Thomas said in their post-game press conference that Saturday’s game gave them confidence for this one.
“We left here Saturday night and not to be cocky, but we knew we would win this game.” Gallagher said.
Thomas added, “We knew the way we could play.”
Because the America East re-seeds, Hartford will travel to play top-seeded Stony Brook on Monday night. While Albany concludes their season, it seems likely that they will participate in one of the postseason tournaments, such as the CIT or CBI.