Sunday, March 8, 2009

Notes from Albany

Black Bears
Most will point to the banked in three-pointer by Hartford's Andres Torres with 50 some seconds to go as the game breaker, but the tenor of the game was set during a six- or seven-minute span of the first half. UMaine went into one of it's patented funks (turnovers, bad shots, bad defense) and allowed Hartford to not only rally from a seven-point deficit, but assume control of the game.

The Black Bears tried to rally, but everytime they needed a key defensive play or execute a crucial offensive set, the Hawks made the plays. UMaine pulled within one, but by that time, it was Hawks, the No. 9 seed and losers of 14 consecutive games, who were dictating play.

Thus, for the second straight year, the Black Bears boarded the bus home just as the rest of us were getting set for the tournament to start. Would have been nice if the Black Bears could have stayed around and gotten a taste of the intensity in the arena when the quarterfinals began.

One of the best quarterfinal days in recent memory. Two overtime games, a No. 9 getting feisty with the No. 1 seed and the expected close game in the 4/5 game. Big, boisterous crowds.

Albany demonstrated the value of playing tough and together, despite not having near the offensive weapons of Vermont. After trailing much of the game, Vermont finally took leads late in regulation and then in overtime, but the Great Danes, struggling mightily on the offensive end, found a way to hang in there. ... It was the first time a No. 7 has defeated a No. 2 in America East tournament history and it was electric in the building the whole game. ... It wasn't pretty, but that's the beauty of basketball; you can win with offense, you can win with defense or you can win by just out-gutting the other team.

UMBC/Boston U.
Another overtime upset, paced by UMBC stud Darryl Proctor, whose follow-up bucket with 2 seconds to go forced the extra period. ... Retriever guard Jay Greene didn't score until his two free throws sealed the win late in OT. But his play was scintillating. All he did was orchestrate UMBC's comeback from an 8-point deficit with about 2:30 left in regulation. ... BU's John Holland and Corey Lowe were hitting bombs and carried the load, but UMBC had better balance, getting strong performances from center Justin Fry and freshman Chauncey Gilliam. ... Gilliam, inexplicably left off the all-rookie team, clearly out-performed BU's Jake O'Brien, who was named rookie of the year. Word around Albany was that AE coaches punished Gilliam for his flagrant foul ejection vs. Boston U. during the regular season. What a joke.

Speaking of jokes, what were the coaches thinking when they left do-everything Binghamton guard D.J. Rivera off the first-team all-conference team. In fact, not a single member of the No. 1 seeded Bearcats made the first team. ... Rivera is probably the quickest guard in America East since Hofstra's Craig "Speedy" Claxton. Yes, he's that quick. He's got a gear that nobody else has in this league.

UNH/Stony Brook
Playing without injured guard Alvin Abreu, the Wildcats led the entire way and held off a late charge. ... UNH's Rony Tchatchua was injured and left the floor late in the game. ... Wildcats will need all its bullets and another strong performance from Tyrece Gibbs, who was immense against Stony Brook. ... Watch out for the Seawolves and UNH in future years. They are young, mature, growing and getting better.

Quarterfinal studs
* Tim Ambrose, Brett Gifford (defended Marqus Blakely) and Will Harris of Albany. Hey, and don't forget Mike Johnson. All the little-known guard did was grab 10 rebounds and hit the biggest free throws of the game. He's a 51-percent free throw shooter.
* Blakely; he kept Vermont in the game
* Proctor, Greene and Gilliam. BU's Lowe and Holland were flashy, but the Retrievers were more persistent
* Binghamton puts extreme pressure on the opposition both offensively and defensively. That's a unique and great quality.
* Gibbs was stellar for UNH, both scoring and on the boards; sophomore Tyrone Conley hit several clutch shots.
* Stony's freshmen -- Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Tommy Brenton -- play hard and give Stony a great core for the years ahead.
* Wolfie receives the mascot of the tourney award for his awesome "Thriller" dance routine with the Stony Brook dance team. He got a standing ovation from the hard-core still hanging out at the SEFCU as the clock ticked toward 11 p.m.

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