NEW YORK, NY – The UAlbany men’s basketball team came back from down nine and hit 24-of-28 free throws (85.7%) to earn a 70-67 road victory at Columbia to close out 2016.
Down 46-37 with 14 minutes left to play, UAlbany (8-6) stormed back with a 12-0 run to take the lead. After a couple of lead changes, UAlbany gained the advantage for good with 5:11 left, using late free throws, including a key putback layup and one by Greig Stire with 34 seconds left, to hold off Columbia (4-7) the rest of the way in front of a crowd of 1,327, including many UAlbany alumni who came to New York City.
“We did a good job defensively, and we did well being patient on offense,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “It is good to get another road win tonight.”
“We were just running the play, the ball got tipped and I went up and shot the ball,” said Stire. “It was important to win as we get ready for conference play.”
As a team, UAlbany outrebounded Columbia 39-27 and shot 24-for-28 from the line, the most free throw makes for the Great Danes this season. No Great Dane had more than one free throw miss.
Joe Cremo earned his seventh 20+ point game of the season, shooting 7-for-10 from the field and 8-for-9 from the line for 22 points, four rebounds and two assists. David Nichols notched 21 points, his 12th double digit scoring game of the year, and four rebounds.
In the frontcourt, Stire nearly had a double-double on 10 points and eight rebounds, going 6-for-7 on the charity stripe. Dallas Ennema ended with five points, seven rebounds and two assists.
For Columbia, Mike Smith got 21 points and five assists, while Nate Hickman finished with 16 points and three assists.
Columbia found early success underneath the basket, hitting its opening four layups, including two from Luke Petrasek, for an early 8-5 advantage over UAlbany.
UAlbany’s man-to-man defense, aided by Stire drawing a charge against Petrasek, held Columbia without points for over four-and-a-half minutes. Cremo added a one-hand floater, then Nichols scored coast-to-coast to push UAlbany ahead 9-8.
The teams exchanged the lead back and forth, with each looking to draw contact on drives. UAlbany picked up free throws to counter Columbia’s shots, with Marqueese Grayson and Stire combining to go 6-for-6 to open on the line, drawing UAlbany within one at 16-15 with under nine minutes in the 1st.
UAlbany pushed ahead after a Nate Hickman three, being sparked by a Nichols three. A Cremo layup and two more Stire free throws pushed UAlbany up 22-19 with 6:25 left in 1st.
Each side tried to fire up threes in transition, with Columbia connecting to tie the game. The final five minutes of the half, the two sides kept exchanging the lead, with jumpers by Cremo and Costa Anderson pushing UAlbany up 28-26. Columbia scored the final four points of the half to lead 30-28 at the break.
UAlbany netted baskets on its first two possessions, with Nichols hitting a runner, then Grayson shaking off a defender and burying a three. Columbia came back with a Smith corner three and a layup to push back ahead. Petrasek added two deep threes to pile up an 11-0 run and make it 41-33 Columbia after just over four minutes gone in the 2nd.
Cremo broke the run with a floater the next possession, and two free throws later. Columbia again responded with two baskets to put the lead at nine at 46-37.
UAlbany gained momentum after the Columbia dunk, scoring three layups in a row, ended by Cremo hitting a basket and one. Nichols added a jumper and a free throw next possession, with Cremo adding a layup in transition to complete a 13-0 run, sending UAlbany ahead 49-46 with under ten minutes to play.
With a jumper and three Hickman free throws, Columbia retook the lead. UAlbany allowed just one point in the next 2:20, pushing back up with free throws to lead 54-52.
As the back and forth continued, Nichols hit another high-screen jumper, followed by two Ennema free throws. After a Petrasek jumper, Ennema connected on the kick-out three for a 64-58 UAlbany lead with 2:34 remaining.
Columbia pulled to within one possession off a Jeff Colby layup with under one minute to play. Off a blocked Nichols shot, Stire grabbed the rebound and shot quickly while fouled, hitting his layup and one for a 67-62 Great Danes lead with 34 seconds left.
Smith hit a layup on the run as Columbia again got to within a possession. Columbia stole the ball, then Grayson fouled Hickman with seven seconds left. Hickman missed both, then Stire grabbed the board and was fouled. His front end free throw was good. Columbia raced and hit a three with one second on the clock, then Nichols got the inbounds and hit two free throws. Columbia did not get off a shot and UAlbany held for the 70-67 win.
UAlbany finishes non-conference play on Monday, January 2nd, hosting Cornell at the SEFCU Arena at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through the UAlbany ticket office at ualbanysports.com/tickets or 518-442-DANE.
-David Vatz/UAlbany Athletics