By Kevin Sweeney
If that was the only time the Albany Cup will be played at SEFCU Arena, Great Danes fans will certainly have a fond memory.
Albany dominated the first half and was able to slow down a huge Siena rally to earn a 81-72 win Saturday night and reclaim the Albany Cup. David Nichols had a career-high 29 points for the Great Danes.
In a game in which everyone new emotions would run high, Albany took control early, using stifling defense to slow the Saints’ offense to a halt. The Danes consistently double-teamed Siena senior forward Javion Ogunyemi whenever he touched the ball, forcing the Saints to do all their work from the perimeter. Meanwhile, both teams racked up fouls, registering 23 fouls in the opening period. The turning point in the half came with 6:45 to play, when Nico Clareth missed a dunk for Siena and Albany responded with a layup at the other end. If Clareth had converted, it would have extended a 7-0 run for the Saints and cut their deficit to two. Instead, the Danes came with an 11-0 run, giving them full control of the game. Overall, Albany finished the half on an 18-4 run, going into the half with a 38-20 lead and all the confidence in the world.
However, Clareth made it clear that this game wasn’t over as he headed down the tunnel at the half:
Clareth backed up his talk with his game, almost single-handedly carrying the Saints back into the game. Siena came out of the half strong, and quickly seized momentum in the game. First, it was point guard Marquis Wright, scoring 11 points in the first seven minutes of the half after being slowed in the first half due to foul trouble. However, Siena was never able to make a huge run, as Nichols and sophomore guard Joe Cremo hit big shot after big shot to keep the Saints at bay. Then, it was the Clareth show. After going 0-7 from the field in the first half of his first game following a 3-game suspension, Clareth found his stroke, hitting four 3’s in the span of just over 3:30 of game action to hold off an Albany run that could have sealed the game. The Saints continued to chip away at the deficit, cutting it to just 4 with a tough fall-away jump shot with 1:34 to play. However, that was when the comeback stalled. Clareth missed a jumper and nearly chased down Cremo for a magnificent block, but was called for goaltending. Clareth took a hard fall and hit the basket stanchion, landing in a heap. Luckily, he was fine and returned to the game, but the Danes were able to get a stop, sealing the game.
Clareth had 16 points, all in the second half, while Wright had 18 points. Nichols’s career-high 29 led the Danes, while Cremo posted 20 points.
The Saints are back in action on Wednesday, when they travel to Olean to take on St. Bonaventure. Albany stays home for a Wednesday matchup with Holy Cross.