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Campus News

Men’s Basketball Defeats Siena for First Time Since 1977

by Brian DePasquale (December 10, 2004)

UAlbany players celebrate the basketball program's first win since 1977 in the crosstown rivalry series with Siena.

UAlbany players celebrate the basketball program's first win since 1977 in the crosstown rivalry series with Siena.

Sophomores Jamar Wilson and Jon Iati each scored 20 points to lead UAlbany to an 86-65 victory over crosstown-rival Siena on November 23 before 8,904 fans at the Pepsi Arena. The Great Danes were off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1996-97, and as of Dec. 6, their record stood at 3-2.

Coach Will Brown said, “Our basketball program has improved. I would love for the faculty and staff to be more involved with our program. Anything that I can do to make this happen I am willing to do. We are willing to do whatever is necessary to pack the Recreation and Convocation Center (RACC). I received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from faculty and staff members after the Siena win! I welcome all to the RACC for a good time.”

Daily Gazette sports writer Mike Kane wrote in his November 24 column that the UAlbany win over Siena “was easily the most important victory for the program since it moved to Division I six seasons ago.”

Kane wrote, “Clearly, Brown understood that having a winning record, maybe capturing the America East Conference title, would have proven that Albany is getting better. Beating Siena is bigger still, for it is a benchmark type of victory in this market. Now, we all have to pay attention to Brown and his team. Now, we know that for the first time, the Danes deserve some respect as a Division I team. Things have changed.”

Siena (0-4) trailed by as many as six points early in the final period of the November 23 game, but then drew even at 55 apiece when Antoine Jordan nailed a three-point field goal. UAlbany’s Lucious Jordan, who scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, responded with a three-pointer from the left side to put his team back on top for good with 9:41 remaining.

The Great Danes, who shot 65.4 percent from the field after halftime, still led 64-61 three minutes later, but then reeled off seven unanswered points. Wilson made a pair of free throws in that stretch, before Jordan converted a layup and Iati drilled a long-range jumper from the left wing.

Still leading 71-65 with 3:13 to play, UAlbany tallied the final 15 points of the contest. Wilson, who made 14-of-14 from the line and added a career-high 10 assists, had six points in that span. The Great Danes shot better than 54 percent from the floor for the second straight game.

“We didn’t play well in the first half,” said Brown, who saw the Great Danes win in this series for the first time since Feb. 3, 1977. “We made a nice run in the second half and cleaned up our turnovers and rebounding. This is a great win for the program. I know people will jump on the bandwagon, but we will welcome them with open arms.”

Michael Haddix, a 6-foot-6 junior, had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Saints, who won the last three matchups between the schools since the series was revived after a 24-year absence. UAlbany’s Levi Levine had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Kirsten Zoellner, a 7-foot-1 center, contributed 13 points and eight boards.

“We have confidence in ourselves,” UAlbany’s Jordan said. “We didn’t buckle under pressure and we hit open shots. This was a big win for us.”

Brown has brought stability to a basketball program that had four head coaches in six years, and that went through the growing pains of moving rapidly from Division III, to II, and then to I. “We’ve had to create an identity at the Division I level,” he said. “The biggest thing was getting into the America East Conference. That helped us with the identity issue. The next issue was to convince kids that we could offer them a tremendous opportunity in the classroom and on the court,” Brown said.

Brown has recruited students with the ability to help UAlbany make history and build tradition.

“We were able to recruit the last two America East Rookies of the Year (Wilson and Iati) and another young man who made the All-Rookie Team (Levine) two years ago. We had a former All-State High School player from Colonie High School named Lucious Jordan transfer to UAlbany last year and he had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. He was the leading scorer the past two seasons at Loyola College in Maryland, as well as an All-MAAC performer,” Brown said. UAlbany also recruited Zoellner, a transfer from Boston College of the Big East Conference, and a native of Hannover, Germany.

“We have tried to convince students that UAlbany is a special place and that our program is on the verge of doing special things. I want our program to get to a position where we can compete for an America East Conference Championship every year. I think that in the very near future we will be able to achieve this goal,” Brown said.

The coach said the difference between this year and last is that “we are healthy and we have much more talent and depth. We have eight new players in uniform this year to go along with the five starters who returned from last year’s team. Our talent level has improved dramatically.”

After the loss to Wagner, Brown noted, “Remember, we are a young basketball team with only two seniors. We are still learning how to play with each other because we have so many new faces this year. We are also still in the process of learning how to win as a program. We did not play well at all against Wagner Nov. 27 and still had a great chance to win,” he said, adding, “Last year if we played poorly we had no shot at winning.”