Albany – Fans packed the Safeku Arena Tuesday night for the start of the Dwayne Killings era of Ulbany men’s basketball, and the Great Dane produced several strong moments in Tuesday’s season-opening half.
“Reality,” said Killings, “set in tonight.”
That reality is that rebuilding the Great Dane, a program coming from three consecutive losing campaigns and with nine new players on the roster for the Killings’ first season, is not complete. Against a visiting Towson squad that included former ULBani starting standout Antonio Rizzuto, the Great Dane fell 77–56 in front of a declared capacity crowd of 4,215.
“It’s the reality of college basketball. The fun, the excitement, and the build-up. You put yourself out there, and you don’t perform like you want to, but . . . we really go about playing Towson intentionally. Were,” Killings said of the club’s experienced coach Pat Skerry who makes several starts and adds several well-regarded transfers. “I wanted to see who we were immediately, and I wanted to see who I was as a coach right away – and, then, I wanted to be able to address the things that we need to improve, To be better at the things I need.
“The damage is on me. We were crushed on the glass. Our tenacity was challenged.”
UAlbany introduced three newcomers – graduate students Matt Cerutti, Paul Newman and D’Vondre Perry – as well as returning players senior Jamel Horton and junior Trey Hutchson. The Killings used a dozen players in the first half, including 10 in the first five minutes of the game. The teams played mostly in the first half as well, but after an 8–0 finish, Tauson took a 39–32 lead at half-time, which was broken by a pair of free throws from Cerutti.
After halftime, Towson didn’t waste much time before sending a few fans out for the exit. After a basket from freshman Justin Neely, which brought Ulbani within 49-42, a bucket from Rizzuto started the run 25-4.
“I thought the pressure of the game was on us,” Killings said. “I thought we looked tired there, and they put a lot of pressure on us on the glass.”
For Rizzuto, Tuesday was a “real” homecoming. Rizzuto played three seasons at UAlbany for former head coach Will Brown, then transferred during the offseason to a university that is about 40 miles from his hometown of York, Pennsylvania. After Tuesday’s game, Rizzuto recalled that Scarry had spoken with him shortly after joining the Tigers’ program about potentially playing Ulbani this season, which Rizzuto told his new coach that it would “Will be a great opportunity” for the team.
“I didn’t know it would be the first game of the season,” Rizzuto said. “That’s when I found out it was kind of crazy.”
Graduate student Terry Nolan led Towson with 17 points, and was one of four Tigers to record a two-point scoring. Rizzuto had 11 points, and swiftly dropped a question after the game as to whether Tuesday night represented a “revenge game” for the former Great Dane.
“A game of revenge? No,” said Rizzuto, who was the second team All-America East selection last season. “I have nothing but great memories from Albany and its community.”
Neither team shot well from the 3-point zone, as Towson made 7 of 24 from deep and Ulbani added 5 of 24, but Towson took Ulbani out 45-28. Towson beat Ulbani 21-6 by turnover, 42-22 in the paint and 17-6 on the second occasion as the Tigers won despite making 10 of 22 free throws.
For UAlbany, Perry scored a team-high 11 points. Perry made 5 of 7 shots, but no other Great Dane scored more than three field goals or recorded a scoring double.
“We lost the rebound battle. We lost the in-the-paint battle,” Perry said. “We knew what the game was going to come down to, and [Towson] Did exactly what the coaches said they were going to do.”
However, Perry called the game a “great learning experience” for Ulbani, who play at La Salle on Saturday.
“Casualty hits, [and] The real character is revealed in times of adversity — so, who are you when things aren’t going your way?” Perry said that was part of his post-game message to his teammates.
Sophomore Will Amika and Redshirt junior Sam Shafer were unfit for the sport due to undisclosed injuries. Every other UAlbany player appeared. The kills did not exclude any players for UAlbany’s next game.
In addition to being Killings’ first game as Great Danes head coach, the competition served as a men’s basketball program for the first time with fans since the 2019-20 season due to restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Killings said his team knows it needs to play better than Tuesday to attract similar crowds in the future.
“It’s the reality of life,” Killings said. “Sometimes, people just want to see the winners. But I was excited to see people support our program, to see the community coming out. Did we play well enough? No, we didn’t – but we Keep working and we’re going to fix it. It’s part of the deal.”
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