It took two incredible efforts.
One took a little more than the typical 40 minute college basketball game.
But it happened.
On Sunday, the UAlbany women’s and men’s basketball programs swept the Albany Cup over their crosstown rivals, the Siena Saints. The women overcame a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to send the game to overtime, where they squeaked out an 88-86 victory, while the men held off a furious second half Siena rally to win 81-72 and complete the sweep.
The Lady Danes, who trailed by nine at the beginning of the fourth and were down eight with just two minutes left, rallied behind an incredible performance by Imani Tate in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, pushing the streak of Cup wins for the ladies to seven, and the first for new Head Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee.
Tate, who picked up her fourth foul with 1:45 in the third quarter, scored 15 of the Danes final 26 points in the final 1:41 of regulation and overtime, including three free throws to tie the game at the end of regulation with 8.4 seconds left.
In the extra period, others stepped up. Jessica Fequiere had 5 points (she finished with career highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds). Bailey Hixson hit a big three to give the Danes a two-point lead with 2:31 left (she finished with a career high 16). Freshman Mackenzie Trpcic hit two free throws, her only two points of the night, to extend the Danes lead to three with 19.6 seconds left.
“I think when she (Tate) came back in the complextion of the game changed,” Siena Head Coach Ali Jaques said postgame. “That’s what a player with her caliber is capable of doing.”
Jaques also went out of her way postgame to compliment the career game from Hixson.
“I thought the player that really made a difference was Bailey Hixson,” she said. “She really hurt us. She hit some key threes.”
“I just gotta come out and do my job; shoot the ball, rebound and work hard,” Hixson said postgame. “Be there for my team and step up.”
However, the night would be about Tate, who finished with 24 points on 7-14 shooting and 6 assists.
“She took over,” McNamee said of the senior guard. “She took it to heart she wanted to win that game. She did a great job.”
Four players finished in double figures for the Saints, led by Jackie Benitez who had 23, all coming in the second half and overtime. Denisha Petty-Evans tied her career high with 19, Meghan Donohue set a new career high with 17, and Kollyns Scarbrough added 15 of her own.
The Lady Danes (3-3) visit St. John’s Wednesday and go to Yale Saturday before returning home to face Fairfield December 6th at 7:00 PM. Siena (1-3) returns home Thursday when they host Fairfield at 7:00 PM.
The nightcap of the doubleheader would of course match the fireworks that came with the opener.
This time the roles would switch.
Down by 18 at half and the momentum clearly on the home side, Siena would do the exact opposite of lay down. The lead would be cut to 7 with just under 9 minutes left and get it down to 4 with 1:32 to go.
But that’s as close as Siena would get.
After Nico Clareth missed a three, Joe Cremo would get a layup off a goaltending by Clareth on the fast break and after a missed Khalil Richard jumper, Cremo would be fouled and hit 1-of-2 to make it a seven point game before a pair of Mike Rowley free throws with 31 seconds on the clock provided the final score of 81-72.
But none of those players were the storyline.
It was David Nichols.
The sophomore guard had a career night; he finished a game-high 29 points on 10-20 shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover in 39 minutes of action tonight. And he didn’t even play in this same game last year.
“That guy (Nichols) kicked our butts,” Siena Head Coach Jimmy Patsos said postgame. “He was the difference. Channeling his energy, combined with his knowledge, his skill set, he’s tougher and better than I thought. He beat us tonight.”
“It doesn’t surprise me what David does,” Cremo said of his sophomore backcourt counterpart. “He puts in the time. He gets better and better everyday and the sky is the limit for him.”
Cremo also had a performance not to be overlooked. The Scotia-Glenville grad finished with 20 points of his own off 6-11 from the field to pair with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He only had two turnovers in 35 minutes.
Siena put themselves in a hole early, as they were bit by the whistle bug (49 fouls were called between the two teams). By the time the first media timeout rolled around, Marquis Wright and Brett Bisping already had two fouls apiece. Wright played 11 minutes in the first half while Bisping was limited to just five due to the foul trouble. Bisping had three fouls at the half, and Siena’s lack of offensive in the first half (6 of 26 from the field, 3 of 15 from three) put them in a deep 18 point halftime hole.
“We didn’t come out with intensity from the beginning,” Wright said. “We gotta start doing that. We weren’t ready to play as a team in the beginning and it caught us.”
Wright would finish with a team-high 18 points, but was limited to only 26 minutes with foul trouble. Javion Ogunyemi and Lavon Long each led the Saints with 35 minutes, but they could combine for only 21 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 6 of the 11 Saints turnovers.
A more rejuvenated Siena squad came out in the second half, led by Clareth. After the sophomore went 0-for-7 in the first half, including 0-for-5 from three, he went 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-6 from behind the arc, including a pair of big momentum shots, in the second for 16 points.
However, the biggest shot Clareth seemed to take was the miss with just over a minute to go and the layup from Cremo that pushed the lead back up to 6.
Albany dominated the paint, outscoring the Saints in the key 36-24. They also lost the rebounding game by only 2 (31-29), and had more second chance points than the visitors.
Albany (4-2) returns home Wednesday when they host Holy Cross at 7:00 PM, while Siena (2-4) visits St. Bonaventure Wednesday before returning to the Times Union Center Saturday when they host Fairfield at 7:00 PM.
Jason Palatsky covers UAlbany Athletics for 518Sports.