Top scorers gone, but outlook bright for Great Danes
Addition by subtraction.
Although University at Albany lost more than 35 points per game when its top two scorers decided not to return this season, the Great Danes might be better off in the long run by offsetting the missing firepower with balance, depth and better defense.
At least, that’s the plan.
“There has been way too much made of losing G [Gerardo Suero] and Logan [Aronhalt],” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “Certainly, we will miss G’s ability to get to the free-throw line. We got to the line more than anybody because of G. He had that unique ability. But I think we have improved, defensively. We won’t be in a rush to score like we were last year. It seemed like we wanted to hit a home run every time out on the floor.”
Brown pointed to the fact that the Great Danes played solid basketball down the stretch, when Aronhalt missed four games because of a foot injury, and Suero missed several because of the shingles.
“When G got the shingles, and Logan had that foot issue, Jacob Iati averaged about 15 points over an eight-game span,” said Brown. “He also brought a lot of great energy to the team. Jacob stresses defense, and he’s a winner. That positive energy spreads to the whole team.”
Even without Suero at full strength and Aronhalt on the bench with his injury, the Great Danes played inspired basketball during the America East Conference Tournament, losing to Stony Brook, 57-55, at the buzzer in the semifinals.
“That loss in the conference tournament really hurt us. Our guys really thought that if they got past Stony Brook, they were going to win the tournament. It was a tough way for the season to end,” said Brown.
The Great Danes eventually got an invitation to the CollegeInsider.-com Tournament and lost to Manhattan, 89-79. They finished 19-15 overall.
Suero decided to play professional basketball, and Aronhalt transferred to Maryland. That leaves the keys with senior point guard Mike Black, who has started 82 of his 93 career games. Black, who enjoys driving and dishing, also has three-point range. He averaged 13.4 points per game and sank 51 three-pointers, second on the team behind Aronhalt’s 60.
“It’s a great feeling to be the main scoring option. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m ready for it,” he said. “Coach Brown always says the team goes as the point guard goes. I think we’ll be a pretty good defensive team, with a lot of different scoring options.”
Senior captain Blake Metcalf, a 6-foot-9, 235-pounder, said the Danes will be a more physical team this year.
“We will bring a defensive-minded attitude to every practice and to the games. I think we will score enough points in transition off of our defense so that we don’t have to score as much in the halfcourt,” Metcalf said.
“We have a lot of depth on this team, and my expectations are to play for the league title.”
Iati, who decided to come back to play another year, despite attending graduate school, agreed with Metcalf.
“We’ll definitely be a better defensive team, and I think there’s no reason to believe we can’t be the best team in this league,” he said. “We have good team chemistry and plenty of shooters.”
Although Black is the only double-figure scorer returning, Iati did score 23 points against Manhattan and 22 against Binghamton in the final few games. Jayson Guerrier, a 6-4 swingman, also moved into the starting lineup for six games and produced much more than his season’s average of 6.6. He sank 41 three-pointers — leading the conference in three-point percentage at 42.3 percent — and Iati added 36, giving the Danes excellent threats from beyond the arc.
Brown said he is also looking for a big season from 6-10 junior center John Puk, who was limited last year because of a skin infection on his leg.
“John Puk is the most improved player I’ve ever coached,” he said. “In a six-month span, he has turned his game around. He’s had an unbelievable summer, and he lost 30 pounds. He’s stronger, and he leaps higher. I’m really happy for him. I hope this improvement carries over when the lights go on. He’s made a 180-degree turnaround with his game.”
If Puk’s improvement is as dramatic as Brown said, he will take over the center position, and Metcalf will play with him at power forward against the bigger teams on the Great Danes’ schedule.
Luke Devlin, a 6-8 junior forward from Australia, is healthy again after a sub-par sophomore season and figures as another starter up front. He’s an excellent rebounder and defender, and he also has mid-jumper range.
Sam Rowley, a 6-6 former rugby player who is also from Australia, gives the Danes added muscle up front along with 6-6 junior transfer Gary Johnson and 6-8 junior transfer Dave Wiegmann.
Sophomore guard Tanner Gibson has been nursing a foot injury during preseason but was a solid defender in 24 games a year ago.
Two other players who should see plenty of playing time are DJ Evans, a 5-9 transfer from East Mississippi Junior College, and 6-4 redshirt freshman Peter Hooley from Australia. Evans was one of the best junior college points guards in the country last year and averaged 15.6 points and 4.4 assists a game. Hooley is an excellent all-around scorer and shooter who only played three games before sitting out the season with a stress fracture in his right foot.
“We can make some noise in the conference. We’ll be good enough to win,” said Brown, whose Danes will host the America East Conference Tournament at SEFCU Arena in March.
“I’m comfortable with 11 guys, and we’ll play 10 early and then maybe about nine when conference play begins.”
The Danes open the season by hosting Duquense Friday night.
Friday — DUQUESNE, 6:30; 11 — at Ohio State in Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, 2; 13 — at Washington in Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, 9:39; 17 — vs. Missouri-Kansas City at Mohegan Sun in Hall of Fame-Tip-Off Tournament, 2:30; 18 — vs. Norfolk or Loyola (Md.) at Mohegan Sun in Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, TBA; 20 — at South Carolina State, 7:30; 26 — WAGNER, 7.
1 — at Siena, 7:30; 5 — ST. FRANCIS (N.Y.), 7; 8 — at Colgate, 2; 12 — SOUTH CAROLINA STATE, 7; 21 — QUINNIPIAC, 7; 28 — at Navy, 7; 31 — BROWN, 4.
2 — UMBC, 7; 5 — at Vermont, 2; 7 — at Binghamton, 7; 12 — MAINE, 7:30; 16 — at New Hampshire, 7; 19 — at Hartford, 7; 23 — BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 7; 26 — VERMONT, 7:30; 30 — STONY BROOK, 7.
2 — BINGHAMTON, 7:30; 6 — at University of Maryland Baltimore County, 7; 9 — at Maine, 3; 16 — HARTFORD, 7; 20 — at Boston University, 7; 23 — at ESPN BracketBuster, TBD; 28 — NEW HAMPSHIRE, 7.
3 — at Stony Brook, 2.
Home games in CAPS.