America East men’s basketball roundup 2/17/15

The America East men’s basketball Tuesday night lineup saw a pair of preseason America East favorites who had been floundering, badly, heading into the home stretch grab a pair of much needed wins. Here’s a look at the action:

Stony Brook 59 Albany 56
The Seawolves needed this game. Badly. Really, really badly. Star center Jameel Warney scored 20 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and sent five shots packing, junior point guard Carson Puriefoy added 14 – albeit not particularly efficiently – and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew ripped down 14 rebounds for Stony Brook. But the difference maker for the Seawolves was seldom used red-shirt junior Scott King, who tied his season high by scoring 12 points – more points than he had scored in Stony Brook’s last eight games, combined – on 5-of-6 shooting.

“When coach [Pikiell] puts me into the game, he expects me to shoot the ball. When I made the first one, I got into a decent rhythm. I just tried to get some rebounds and bring energy off the bench,” said King of the performance.

Albany saw off shooting nights across the board, hitting just 20-of-58 shots (34.5 percent) from the floor. Sam Rowley and Ray Saunders scored 12 points a piece, Dallas Ennema added 11, and Evan Singletary added eight, but the quartet shot just 15 for 46 from the floor.

The loss snapped Albany’s 13 game winning streak and gave the Great Danes their first conference loss on the year to 12 wins, but it wasn’t particularly unexpected, as the team had won several close games as of late. That, coupled with the emotional homecoming of Peter Hooley after spending nearly a month back home in Australia, to be by his mother’s side before she passed away from colon cancer, perhaps made the Great Danes due for an off night.

On the other side, the Seawolves needed a win badly against a top-four team in the America East, and they needed to win a game exactly like this: By getting contributions from players not named “Jameel Warney.”

With three games left to play and a one-game lead over second place Vermont, the Great Danes remain in the driver’s seat for the regular season title and home court advantage in the conference playoffs, but the Catamounts have been playing arguably the best basketball in the league over the past two weeks and another slip up could see Albany take a drop in the standings.

Hartford 55 UMBC 52
This wasn’t so much a must-win as it was an absolutely, positively, no-bleeping-way can you lose game for the host Hawks, who nearly managed to find a way to fall on their home court to a crippled Retrievers squad.

Sophomore point guard Justin Graham scored 10 points, his fifth straight game in double figures and eighth in his last 11, after going the first 15 games of the season without reaching double-digits, and seniors Wes Cole and Corban Wroe came off the bench to combine for 24 points.

Hartford wasn’t particularly sharp from the floor, hitting 37.5 and 22.7 percent of their shots, but the Retrievers were even worse, hitting just 30.4 and 21.4 percent, respectively.

On another night against another team, you might be able to chalk the Hawks win up to gritty defense, but against a UMBC squad that is suiting up just eight serviceable bodies, only seven of them scholarship players and only a handful legit Division I talents, it’s hard to put much stock in the win from any angle – especially from a senior-laden Hartford squad that was supposed to be competing for an America East title but now sits in fifth place at 6-7 in league play.

For UMBC, this was yet another herculean effort for a team showing more grit, guts and heart than any other in the league. Power forward Cody Joyce scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds, senior forward Devarick Houston added 10 points, 10 boards, three steals and two blocks and freshman Malcolm Brent added 13 points.

OBW America East Player of the Night
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook

20 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, 9-of-18 shooting.

OBW America East Rookie of the Night:
Malcolm Brent, G, UMBC

13 points, 4-of-8 shooting, 2-of-5 three-point shooting, five rebounds

America East Standings
Team conference record (overall record)
1. Albany 12-1 (18-8)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. Stony Brook 9-4 (18-10)
4. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
5. Hartford 6-7 (13-13)
6. UMass Lowell 5-8 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-12 (3-23)

OBW America East Power Rankings v12

hooley2

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the water is rising – or falling – to its own level in the America East and the conference’s playoff standings are beginning to take shape.

With just four regular season games remaining and a two game lead over Vermont, Albany remains firmly in the drivers seat to secure home court throughout the playoffs, with the Catamounts as the only team with a true chance of overtaking the Danes. New Hampshire has also insured itself of no worse than a fourth place finish, while Stony Brook has all but locked up another spot in the top for. And while the final order in the top four remains up for grabs, it’s a safe bet that the winner of the conference playoffs is going to come from that quartet of teams.

So without further ado, here’s a look around the league with our latest America East Power Rankings

1. Albany (18-7, 12-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-46 at Binghamton; W 65-59 at NJIT
This week: Tuesday vs Stony Brook, Friday vs Hartford
Albany’s winning streak is now at 13 games – the program’s Division I era record – 12 of them coming in America East play. But it was the non-conference win, Friday night at NJIT, that was perhaps the biggest – and certainly most emotional – of the team’s season, as star Peter Hooley made his return after an eight game absence, during which time he returned home to be by his mother’s side as she battled colon cancer, before laying her to rest after her passing. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley established himself as the team’s go to scorer, and junior point guard Evan Singletary shouldered Hooley’s normal load as the team’s big shot extraordinaire. Hooley played limited minutes coming off the bench, but cracked double-figures while surpassing the 1,000 career point plateau. If Albany can get Hooley back to form, the Danes are easily the odds-on favorites to win the league playoffs and punch their ticket to the NCAAs.

2. Vermont (16-10, 11-2 in AE)
Results: W 96-53 vs UMass Lowell; W 74-51 vs UMBC
This week: Wednesday at Binghamton
Don’t look now, but in the Great Danes’ shadows there is another America East team riding emotional to an inspiring winning steak. The Catamounts have now won five straight games, four of them since top-ranked recruit Josh Speidel suffered a traumatic head injury in a car accident. And while the Great Danes have been finding ways to win in the closing minutes and seconds, the Catamounts have been straight smacking people. Freshman point guard Trae Bell-Haynes has hit a bit of a wall down the stretch, but fellow frosh Cam Ward and Brandon Hatton have picked up the baton and carried on, while junior center Ethan O’Day is playing the best basketball of his career, scoring at will around the post. The Catamounts have officially joined the Great Danes in distancing themselves from the rest of the America East pack.

3. New Hampshire (16-10, 9-4 in AE)
Results: W 76-70 (OT) at Hartford; W 66-48 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at UMass Lowell
This is officially the best season the Wildcats have experienced in two decades. With a win over Binghamton Saturday, UNH assured itself winning seasons both in league play and overall for the first time since the 1994-1995 season. Three more wins and the Wildcats will surpass the 94-95 team’s win total in conference play and tie it’s overall number of wins (19). The secret sauce behind New Hampshire’s success: Toughness, energy and selfless play according to head coach Bill Herrion. Sophomore forward Jacoby Armstrong’s return to form, paired with freshman stud Tanner Leissner, gives the Wildcats one of the best front courts in the league, senior gunner Matt Miller remains the best shooter in the America East, and Herrion has revived his trademark defense – arguably the best in the league. The Wildcats remain unproven, and no one of the roster has experienced post season success, but make no mistake, this is a team no one wants to play in the post season.

4. Stony Brook (17-10, 8-4 in AE)
Results: W 73-61 at UMBC; W 80-52 vs Maine
This week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Seawolves got two huge shots in the arm on Saturday in the form of a career-high 24 points from raw but talented red-shirt freshman wing Roland Nyama and 15 rebounds from junior forward Rayshaun McGrew. Whether those performances can translate against the top of the conference – as opposed to the dregs of the league – remains to be seen, but if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the first NCAA Tournament appearances in league history, they are going to need to get consistent play from their supporting cast. Junior center Jameel Warney is a horse, but against the crème of the America East crop, it has been proven that Warney can’t do it alone.

5. Hartford (12-13, 5-7 in AE)
Results L 76-70 (OT) vs New Hampshire; L 69-63 at UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday vs UMBC; Friday at Albany
Hartford got a huge boost over the weekend with the return of star senior forward Mark Nwakamma, who went down two weeks ago against Vermont for what was originally feared would be a season-ending knee injury. Hartford needs Nwakamma on the court, demanding double teams and spacing the floor to open up the perimeter to their shooters. Unfortunately, even with Nwakamma on the court, the Hawks haven’t proven they can consistently knock down enough shots to be a real threat, as evidenced by Saturday’s loss against a UMass Lowell team playing without its top talent.

6. UMass Lowell (11-15, 5-8 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday vs Maine; Saturday vs New Hampshire
The River Hawks continue to inspire as one of the league’s best stories (they would be the best if not for the inspiring seasons of Albany and Vermont). When do everything freshman star Jahad Thomas (who was running away with the Rookie of the Year award) went down with a torn ACL two weeks ago, the River Hawks season was supposed to be over. Instead, they’ve kept fighting, with freshmen Matt Harris and Brad Schaub stepping up their games, while seniors Kerry Weldon, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley are going out the way all seniors should: leaving everything on the floor. Lowell has now surpassed last season’s win total despite playing with far less overall talent and experience – a testament to head coach Pat Duquette’s abilities.

7. Binghamton (4-24, 3-10 in AE)
Results: L 62-46 vs Albany; L 66-48 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Vermont; Saturday at Stony Brook
The tough season continues for the banged up Bearcats, who are back on the snide having lost four straight. Binghamton’s freshman class has shown ability across the board – from Romello Walker’s athleticism and energy, to Justin McFadden’s defensive ability, Willie Rodriguez’ toughness, Dusan Perovic’s scoring and Bobby Ahearn’s toughness – but they can’t avoid the injury and illness bug, and haven’t been able to field enough healthy – let alone experienced – bodies to compete day in and day out.

8. Maine (3-22, 2-10 in AE)
Results: L 80-52 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at UMBC
There’s a common trend among the bottom three in the league, and that is rebuilding programs who are lacking enough healthy bodies to compete for 40 minutes. Maine continues to fight the good fight under first year head coach Bob Walsh, but the team is battling against a culture of apathy engrained over the past decade, and injuries to key players. Freshman scoring guard Kevin Little has been electric for stretches, and freshman point guard Aaron Calixte is cool under pressure. That duo, combined with next year’s incoming class, should give Black Bear fans hope of a brighter tomorrow.

9. UMBC (3-22, 1-11 in AE)
Results: L 3-61 vs Stony Brook; L 74-51 at Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Maine
You have to be impressed by the job head coach Aki Thomas, his staff, and his players have done when staring down the most daunting and insurmountable odds in the league. No team has shown more heart over the season than UMBC, which has somehow found the resolve to show up and fight with everything they have every day despite suiting up just eight bodies – only four or five of whom are really Division I quality players.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany

Rowley scored 36 points, ripped down 23 rebounds and dished out five assists in a pair of Great Danes wins, including a 20-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton, to help Albany push its winning streak to 13 straight.

America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire

Stony Brook’s Roland Nyama had the best game of the week, going off for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in a route of Maine, but Leissner had the best week, scoring 30 points and pulling down 21 rebounds while playing a whopping 81 minutes in a pair of Wildcats wins, including a 14-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton.

OBW America East Fab Five
Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

America East men’s basketball roundup 2/14/15

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, every game is magnified for America East teams jockeying for position in the standings and seedings in the America East Playoffs — seedings that are more important than at any other time in recent history with the new, high-seed host format.

With just a handful of conference games left, Albany has distanced themselves from the pack at 12-0 in league play, and a regular season title and home court advantage throughout the playoffs would appear to be theirs to lose, with an 11-2 Vermont squad as the only other team with a realistic shot.

Here’s a look at sights, sounds and results from a huge Saturday of hoops with the America East men’s basketball roundup.

New Hampshire 66 Binghamton 48
The Wildcats were expected to roll over the Bearcats and they did just that, but make no mistake, this was a huge win for the players, the program, and head coach Bill Herrion. Now standing at 16-10 on the year and 9-4 in America East play, New Hampshire has officially clinched a winning record for the first time in Herrion’s tenure and the first time since the 1994-1995 season (There is no scenario where the Wildcats could lose more than four America East contests without a win, or five total games including a post-season birth without a victory, ensuring a winning season).

Freshman forward Tanner Leissner posted his fourth double-double of the season and third in the past five games he has played, scoring 14 points to go with a career-high 15 rebounds to pace four Wildcats in double-figures.

The undermanned Bearcats got 10 points apiece from sophomore guards Yoseph Yacob and Marlon Beck II and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, but were held to just 27.8 percent from the floor (15-of-54) by the vaunted Wildcats defense.

UMass Lowell 69 Hartford 63
Valentine’s Day was a huge win for the host River Hawks and an outright bad loss for the visiting Hawks. Despite playing without the team’s offensive and defensive epicenter, freshman forward Jahad Thomas, lost for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, UMass Lowell continued to play with tremendous heart and effort, outworking and out-willing Hartford all night while executing a methodical game plan on both ends of the floor.

Led by senior forward Kerry Weldon’s 15 points – among them an emphatic dunk – eight different River Hawks scored, including 13 points off the bench from sharp-shooting freshman Matt Harris, nine points from reserve junior guard D.J. Mlachnik and eight points apiece from Brad Schaub, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley. Defensively the Rive Hawks held the bombs-away Hawks to just 24 percent from downtown (6-of-25) and 42.9 percent from the floor (24-of-56), while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from downtown.

For Hartford, the loss – the team’s sixth in its last seven games – was another painful reminder of the team’s shortcomings in what was supposed to the “their year.” With six seniors on the roster – including star forward Mark Nwakamma, heart and soul guard/forward Corban Wroe, and fiery leader and point guard Yolonzo Moore II – Hartford was supposed to be built to compete for a title this season. But with the daunting task of a complete roster rebuild next year, the Hawks have not only failed to build on their momentum from the past two years – a pair of 17 win seasons in which they won 10 regular season America East games – but have now begun a serious back slide.

Stony Brook 80 Maine 52
Red-shirt freshman forward Roland Nyama exploded for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, to go with five rebounds. Junior forward Rayshaun McGrew added a 15-rebound, 10-point double-double, junior center Jameel Warney posted a double-double of his own with 13 points and 11 rebounds and junior point guard Carson Puriefoy chipped in 12 points.

After disheartening losses to New Hampshire, in a game they never competed, and Vermont in a game they coughed up a massive second half lead on their home court, the Seawolves’ have benefitted from back-to-back basement dwellers, following up a 12-point win over UMBC with a massacre of Maine. The pair of beatings over a pair of massively undermanned and overmatched squads should go a long way in restoring the Seawolves’, but it’s hard to gauge how much of their recent play will translate against the top of the league (Stony Brook’s record currently stands at 1-4 against first place Albany, second place Vermont and third place New Hampshire).

Getting production from players not named “Jameel Warney” is a must if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the NCAAs, and while their supporting cast has proven they can dominate the have-nots of the league, they are going to need to show consistency against the America East “haves.”

For Maine, this was a game where the Black Bears – at the bottom of a ground up program build under first year head coach Bob Walsh — were simply and completely overmatched

Vermont 74 UMBC 51
The Catamounts have now won five straight games, including four emotional wins in honor of recruit Josh Speidel who was severely injured in a Feb. 1 car accident.

Junior forward Ethan O’Day continued his inspired play, matching his career-high with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three blocks in just 25 minutes, and Vermont shot a blistering 51.9 percent from the floor (28-of-54). Nine Catamounts broke into the scorers column and 10 played double-digit minutes as Vermont turned a six-point first half lead into a route.

Dre Wills continued to shine as the Catamounts do-everything star and lynchpin, scoring 10 points to go with four assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block.

For UMBC, the game one again highlighted the Retrievers horrific lack of depth following a litany of injuries and suspensions, but even more amazing their indomitable heart and hustle. Playing just seven players, one of them walk-on Ben Grace, the Retrievers gave Vermont everything the Catamounts could handle for a half, before running out of gas in the second half.

Nightly awards:
OBW America East Player of the Game

Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
22 points, 9-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks

OBW America East Rookie of the Game
Roland Nyama, F, Stony Brook : 24 points, 9-of-12 shooting, 6-of-8 3pt, five rebounds

Standings
Team – Conference Record (Overall Record)
1. Albany 12-0 (18-7)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
4. Stony Brook 8-4 (17-10)
5. Hartford 5-7 (12-13)
6. UMass Lowell 508 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-11 (3-22)

Peter Hooley returns to help Albany push winning streak to 13

Albany guard Peter Hooley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany guard Peter Hooley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Peter Hooley let fly from behind the arc in a tiny gym on a cold, dark night in downtrodden city of Newark, New Jersey. And just as he had done 125 times before in his remarkable career, Hooley found the bottom of the net.

But this shot was different.

Hooley’s long bomb tied Albany at 27 with their host NJIT, and in doing so, pushed him past 1,000 points in his career, en route to a 65-59 road win, Albany’s 13th straight victory.

But it was much more than the milestone on the way to yet another big Great Danes win. The shot, and the victory, came in Hooley’s first game back after a three week and eight game absence from the team. They came with Hooley’s father Jeff and twin sister Emma sitting in the stands. And it was a night that followed sleepless, 32-plus hour trip for Hooley and his family their native Australia, and nearly a month straight of heart ache and heart break.

“[It was] very emotional, very uplifting for our team,” said Albany head coach Will Brown as the clock neared midnight, hours after the final horn.

It was a moment that came without the physical presence of Hooley’s mother, Sue, who passed away on Jan. 30 after a four and a half year battle with colon cancer, but who has remained with Hooley and the entire Great Danes roster since her passing.

“Special kid,” said an exhausted Brown of Hooley, making the understatement of the year.

And for Brown, his staff and players, and Hooley, the moment hopefully signaled the beginning of the end of a 26 daylong nightmare that began when Hooley received word that his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse on Jan. 12, and returned to his hometown of Adelaide, Australia, to be by his mother’s side.

With their star, captain, and emotional epicenter halfway around the world, the Great Danes responded by winning eight-straight America East games in Hooley’s absence, to push their conference record to 12-0, and a two game lead over second placed Vermont. Time and time again during the winning streak, the Great Danes found ways to pull out improbable victories in every imaginable fashion — coming from behind, withstanding relentless rallies, and knocking down game-winners in the final seconds.

According to Brown, Hooley arrived back in Albany. at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday night and did not get a single second of sleep during the trip. He was met at his apartment by the entire Great Danes roster and coaching staff and practiced with the team on Thursday, before making the decision to rejoin his teammates in uniform the next day.

After nearly a month’s worth of inactivity, Brown began the game with Hooley on the bench, and the Great Danes fell behind 17-10 to an NJIT squad that entered the game with a 10-1 record at home.

Coming out of a timeout with 13:43 left in first half, Hooley subbed back into the lineup, taping his chest and blowing a kiss skyward as he set foot on the college hardwood for the first time since Jan. 14.

Fittingly, junior point guard Evan Singletary, who emerged as a bona fide star in Hooley’s absence, hitting big shot after big shot – including the game-winning 3-pointer in a big road win at Vermont – who made yet another huge play in the game’s deciding moment, driving to the lane and banking in a contested lay-up after what appeared to be a great deal of contact to push the lead to 62-59.

But it was Hooley who slammed the door shut on the Highlanders, grabbing an offensive rebound off of a missed free-throw with five seconds remaining, drawing a foul and sinking both free-throws to give the Danes their final margin of Victory.

“I’m Just really happy for him and his family,” said Brown. “[He] gave us 17 good minutes.”

Hooley wasn’t made available to the media after the game, but he took to Facebook later on that evening to express his gratitude to the throngs of family, friends, and well wishers who sent love and support his way throughout his ordeal, writing:

“Blessed! Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. Felt extra special to be able to get this milestone with dad and Em there. Everything I do, and everything I’ve ever done, is for my family. Now more than ever. ‪#‎FamilyOverEverything‬ Ps 13 wins in a row.”

OBW America East Power Rankings v11

With no team having more than six conference games remaining, we are officially in the home stretch of the regular season, with the America East Playoffs bearing down on teams like a bespectacled Austin Ganly on a helpless defender in the open court. At this point, there is a clear separation between the top four in the league standings and everyone else, with that quartet looking like the only teams with a true shot at winning the whole thing and going dancing.

So without further delay, here’s a look at how the teams stack up with the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (16-7, 11-0 in AE)
Results: W 63-62 vs New Hampshire; W 69-59 vs UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton; Friday at NJIT
What more can be said about the Great Danes at this point? Playing in the shadows of tragedyColon cancer that took the life of Great Dane’s star Peter Hooley’s mother, Sue, and has kept Hooley from the team for roughly three weeks – Albany has found a way to go on a remarkable run, opening the conference play by going a perfect 11-0. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley has entrenched himself as a near unstoppable scorer in the low post, and JuCo transfer Evan Singletary has stepped into the spotlight as a star scoring point guard who will take – and make – the biggest shots of the game without conscience or remorse. The Great Danes have gotten enough from their role players – the bigs play physical, JuCo wing Ray Saunders locking down defenders – to continue to win, but they may be running a little bit on fumes as of late, eeking out a win at home over a Tanner Leissner-less UNH squad and being given a real game by a Jahad Thomas-less UMass Lowell. Hooley is expected to return following the Binghamton game and make no mistake this is the America East team to beat.

2. Vermont (914-10, 9-2 in AE)
Results: W 68-49 vs Maine; W 57-48 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs UMBC
The Catamounts became the latest America East team to be reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, basketball is just a game, and there are things in life so much bigger than wins and losses, when top Vermont recruit Josh Speidel was critically injured in a car accident on Feb. 1. Since the accident, which left Speidel in critical but stable condition recovering in an Indiana hospital, Vermont has played inspired basketball in their future teammate’s honor, destroying Maine at home, before roaring back from a 17-point halftime deficit to KO Stony Brook on the road. According to head coach John Becker, “it seems like it’s a different group of 5-6 guys every night who step up and play their best basketball,” and against Stony Brook, three of the biggest heroes proved to be star center Ethan O’Day, reserve freshman shooter Brandon Hatton, and all guts no glory freshman Josh McRoberts. The one constant throughout the season for Vermont has been shooting guard/flying tank Dre Wills, arguably the league’s Defensive Player of the Year who does literally everything every night out for the Catamounts. While Vermont needs to get consistent play from their front court offensively, the Catamounts remain powered by frenetic back court defense.

3. New Hampshire (14-10, 7-4 in AE)
Results: L 63-62 at Albany; W 80-46 vs UMBC
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Wildcats are officially no joke, and a team whose sum is far greater than any individual part, as proven by their last second, one-point road loss at Albany despite playing without their best all around player (and far and away best scorer) freshman forward Tanner Leissner. While the Wildcats have gotten back to head coach Bill Herrion’s bread and butter – ferocious team defense for 94 feet – they have a completely new look and new attitude from any previous team Herrion’s nine-year tenure, capable of scoring around the hoop courtesy of Leissner and Jacoby Armstrong, in the mid-range (Leissner), and from downtown thanks to Matt Miller and Daniel Dion. They can also create off the dribble behind Dion and Jaleen Smith and finish the fast break with authority with players like Ronnel Jordan. And, considering various nagging injuries that have bothered them for much of the year, they still haven’t hit their ceiling.

4. Stony Brook (15-10, 6-4 in AE)
Results: L 57-48 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs Maine
Following a loss to Vermont that would be impossible to call anything other than bad after coughing up a 17-point second half lead (OK, some stronger language than bad might be appropriate) Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell was steadfast in his resolve that he feels the best is yet to come for the team. Me, I’m pretty darn concerned about Stony Brook, which has now lost two straight and currently sits at 1-4 against the three teams above them in the standings. Center Jameel Warney remains an automatic double-double and the most dominant player in the league, but he simply can not win games alone against the top of the league and he’s getting almost nothing from his supporting cast. Furthermore, as was the case in each of the past two seasons, Warney appears to be hitting a bit of a wall, as a season’s-worth of double and triple teams may be catching up to him again.

5. Hartford (12-11, 5-5 in AE)
Results W 62-61 at Binghamton
This week: Tuesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday at UMass Lowell
Plain and simple, Hartford is a bad team without Mark Nwakamma, a reality the Hawks were forced to face for the better part of the last two games after a knee injury to the team’s star senior forward and offensive epicenter. The good news: Nwakamma will hopefully return to the lineup Tuesday night. The bad news: While the Hawks are markedly better with Nwakamma in the lineup, they haven’t exactly been a good team with him either. Roughly three-quarters of the way through the season, playing a rotation that features six seniors, at this point Hartford is what it is: A team that can get hot from behind the arc and beat anyone, but seems unlikely to be able to sustain that type of white-hot shooting for any consistent period of time – certainly not three straight games in March, which is a prerequiste to punch through to the NCAAs. The odds of Hartford undergoing a metamorphosis into a complete basketball team at this late juncture are pretty slim.

6. UMass Lowell (10-14, 4-7 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Hartford
The River Hawks lost red-shirt freshman Jahad Thomas for the remainder of the season two weeks ago at Binghamton to a torn ACL – his second in as many years. To call Thomas’ loss a huge blow to the River Hawks is a massive understatement: The 6’2” 235 pound battering ram had emerged as the America East’s version of Charles Barkley (or the reincarnation of former America East star Darryl Proctor). Without Thomas, Lowell will struggle to find consistent scoring. But the River Hawks defend like crazy, play with discipline, and execute their offense, and in the bottom half of the AE that will still win you some games.

7. Binghamton (4-22, 3-8 in AE)
Results: L 62-61 vs Hartford; L 67-64 at Maine
This Week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday at New Hampshire
Binghamton is still struggling to execute consistently, as evident by their loss against previously hapless Maine. But the Bearcats are playing a lot of very young but very talented players a lot of minutes, and sooner than later the experience they are gaining is going to start turning into wins.

8. Maine (3-21, 2-9 in AE)
Results: L 68-59 at Vermont; W 67-64 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at Stony Brook
After competing for the first half against the likes of New Hampshire, Albany and Vermont only to get annihilated after the intermission, the Black Bears found a way to stem the second half tide and score a much needed win over the visiting Bearcats. Head coach Bob Walsh inherited a completely bare cupboard, and a team with a decade-old culture where subpar effort, surrendering easily, and accepting losing. Breaking such ingrained habits isn’t easy, and Walsh more than has his work cut out for him, but Maine is taking steps in the right direction, and it likely is no coincidence that Walsh’s two recruits – explosive scoring guard Kevin Little and heady, steady point guard Aaron Calixte – appear to be the team’s two best players.

9. UMBC (3-20, 1-9 in AE)
Results: L 67-51 at UMass Lowell; L 80-46 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Stony Brook; Saturday at Vermont
Head coach Aki Thomas, his coaching staff, and what’s left of his team, because they are all working harder than perhaps any other team I have ever seen and they have so little tangible to show for it. At this point, the Retrievers’ plight has been well told: Down to seven healthy bodies, only five of them scholarship players, after a rash of injuries, suspensions and other misfortunes, UMBC is completely gassed at this point, yet they keep finding the courage and resolve everyday to dig down deep and fight. It sounds corny, but the fact that Thomas has his team playing so hard is a huge victory in its own right.

OBW America East Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, Fr., G, Maine
In two games, Little played 79 of 80 available minutes for the Black Bears, scoring 38 points to go with nine rebounds while shouldering a massive load for Maine, all while playing on what is rumored to be a badly injured lower leg/foot. The fearless freshman gunner drilled what would prove to be the game winner for the Black Bears with 41 seconds remaining against Binghamton on Saturday, and spent the entire week playing with veteran confidence and swagger. This kid is going to be good.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
**Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Tanner Leissner, Fr., F, New Hampshire
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

**UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas has been, according to raw numbers and advanced statistics, easily one of the five best players in the America East all season long, ranking second in points and fifth in rebounds, and scoring at an insanely effective clip despite constant double and triple teams. However, Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and thus will likely fall out of First Team All-Conference contention due to sheer games played.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Albany men’s basketball plays on the shadows of something so much bigger

Albany head coach Will Brown and the Great Danes have carried on for Peter Hooley and his family. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown and the Great Danes have carried on for Peter Hooley and his family. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

In his 14 seasons at Albany, Great Danes head coach Will Brown has seen just about everything. During his tenure, Brown has finished a game with just four players on the floor, experienced a season of just four wins, and punched his ticket to four NCAA Tournaments.

But never before has he experienced something like this. Never before has Albany men’s basketball been this dominant in conference play. And never before has the game of basketball seemed so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s just been emotionally, mentally draining,” said Brown, whose team currently sits at a perfect 10-0 in America East conference play, a full two games ahead of second placed Vermont. “You know, we like to use these phrases as coaches like we ‘live and die with every play in every game,’ and that kind of sentiment just seems so wrong now.”

The Great Danes 10-0 conference record is the greatest start to conference play in school history, and the best the America East has seen in a decade. Time and time again, the team has found ways to pull out improbable wins and play with seemingly superhuman strength. But Albany’s celebration has been muted throughout their improbable run because it has come in the shadows of something so much bigger.

“When you’re dealing with the dreaded word ‘cancer,’ and you’re dealing with life and death and you’ve got a kid whose from completely around the world, and their family has entrusted you with helping him grow and develop as an individual and obviously as a student athlete, and you have a kid who is in your office who’s helpless, you have a family who is home going through this, basketball becomes so much less important in the grand scheme of things,” said Brown.

On Jan. 16, Albany captain, leading scorer, and star Peter Hooley received a phone call from his native Australia telling him his mother Sue, who had been battling colon cancer for four and a half years, had taken a turn for the worse. Hooley, who had remained with the Great Danes at Sue’s urging throughout his mother’s long fight, left the team and flew home to Australia.

For the next two weeks, Brown led the Great Danes into practices and into games with the darkest of dark clouds hanging over their heads.

“All I’m thinking about is Peter and his mom. It’s not easy; this is something they don’t prepare you for,” said Brown. “The coaching is easy.

“I’ve had situations before where Jamar Wilson tears a patella tendon and we lose him for a year, and as a young Division I program you can’t afford to lose your stud” said Brown, remembering back to the four-win 2003-2004 season when Wilson, the greatest player in school history went down. “And then Jon Iati, who leads the nation in minutes played, he tears his labrum in his shoulder and he’s out for a year. Those are injuries. But this, this is life and death, this is completely different.”

Somehow, with heavy hearts and without their star, the Danes managed to rattle off their next four straight wins, soundly beating Stony Brook and Hartford on the road, and bludgeoning UMBC at home before knocking off Vermont on an Evan Singletary 3-pointer at the buzzer.

According to Brown, every time the team stepped foot on the court, it proved to be a respite from the realities of the real world. And every time the final buzzer rang, those realities came flooding back.

“My wife was at home every day with Peter’s sister, Emma. And she was either face timing, or calling Sue Hooley, and she’s talking to Jeff Hooley,” he explained.

According to Brown, the response from the Albany community and the America East community at large helped he and his team continue to keep moving forward, and provided solace to Hooley an ocean away.

“The support was really overwhelming. I stopped at the butcher, and the lady who is ringing me up is like, ‘how is Peter Hooley’s family? How is he doing?’” he said.

“I got a check in the mail from [Binghamton head coach- Tommy Dempsey, I got one from [Hartford head coach] John Gallagher,” continued Brown of donations to benefit Sue’s cause. “It’s just so overwhelming, the community support. I got checks everyday, people I don’t even know.”

But on Jan. 30, along a long bus ride along pitch black back roads that run from Albany to Orono, Maine, reality became impossible to escape, as Brown received the call that he had long been dreading: Sue Hooley had passed away at 52.

The Great Danes took the court the next day in honor of Sue and Peter Hooley, and took it to host Maine. One game later, wearing warmups emblazoned with Sue’s initials “SH” and Peter’s number 12, Albany took their home court at SEFCU Arena and knocked off a New Hampshire squad making a hard charge at the top of the conference, 63-62.

“The resiliency that our team is showing, adversity is staring them right in the face, and they’re just throwing haymakers at it right now, knocking that adversity on its rear-end,” said Brown of his team’s ability to continue to win despite everything. “Look back at the best days of the America East: You take Jamar Wilson off the court, Abany’s not winning; You take [Taylor] Coppenrath off the court, Vermont’s not winning; you take Rashad Bell off the court [BU’s] not winning; [Jose Juan] Barea off the court, they’re (Northeastern’s) not winning.”

And yet the celebration remained subtle following the latest dramatic victory.

“We’re all thinking about Pete – what him and his family are going through are so much more important than wins and losses,” said Brown.

Hooley is expected to return to the team, accompanied by his father and sister, around Feb. 11. With the return of their best player, the Danes would seem to be the far and away favorites to go to the NCAAs. It would be the team’s third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance an Brown’s fifth of his career, moving him past the legendary Jim Calhoun for the most NCAAs among America East coaches. A year ago, it’s a scenario that would have meant the world to Brown. But so much can change in a year.

“I don’t care about wins and losses compared to what Pete and his family are going through, and I would give just about anything up if it meant bringing Sue back,” he said.

#PurpleFam — Jamar Wilson, Peter Hooley and Sue Hooley

Jamar Wilson represented the Albany men’s basketball at Sue Hooley’s funeral. Then, the greatest player in Great Danes history, represented Sue and her son, current Albany star Peter Hooley, on the hardwood.

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On Tuesday in America and Wednesday in Australia, Wilson, who is in his eighth season of professional basketball and fourth playing in Australia, attended the ceremonies to remember and honor Sue Hooley, who passed away on Jan. 17 after a long and courageous battle against colon cancer.

Two days later, Wilson took the floor for the Adelaide 36ers, a team that plays in the Australian-NBL – the country’s top professional league – and the hometown team for the Hooley’s, wearing a pair of grey Nikes with “Sue” written across the top of the left sneaker, and “Phil: 316” written across the top of the right.

Wilson, a 6’1” combo guard who led Albany to the first two NCAA Tournament appearances in school history while setting school records for career points (2,164), single-season scoring (620 points) and career made free-throws (601), reportedly got to know Peter, who has led the Great Danes to back-to-back NCAAs the past two seasons, over the past summer when the two worked out together in Albany.

But far beyond his numbers and championships, Wilson’s lasting legacy at Albany was the culture he cultivated and the foundation he laid, along with teammate Levi Levine and head coach Will Brown — A culture that the entire Great Danes’ program would be built upon: A culture of of family, passed down from each generation of players who donned the purple and gold to the next. It was a culture embodied by two words: “Purple Fam.”

And a world away and nearly a decade removed from the last time Wilson stepped off the court at SEFCU Arena, it was apparent that Purple Fam is forever.

The Barber: Greig Stire

Greig Stire, Albany's resident strongman and barber. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Greig Stire, Albany’s resident strongman and barber. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

An old school player needs and old school nickname, and Greig Stire has the perfect moniker to fit his gritty game.

“The barber!” explodes Albany head coach Will Brown, unable to control his excitement. “He’s the barber of the team! He cuts everybody’s hair. That’s his name, the barber!” Brown continues, before growing more serious. “He’s been terrific.”

On paper, “terrific” would seem to be a bit of overkill in describing a post player averaging just 2.4 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting below 40 percent from the floor, no matter how tight he tapers his fades. But Brown is dead serious in his assessment of the freshman forward.

“I think right now, for us, he’s really good because he’s a guy that doesn’t need the ball. He’s willing to screen, he’s willing to rebound, he’s willing to guard, and he’s willing to grind,” says Brown of the 6-foot-7-inch 225-pounder. “I love him because he doesn’t have an ego, he doesn’t need to score and he’s a master of the lost art of being a tough, mean guy on the blocks.

“And,” says Brown, the wave of enthusiasm in his voice beginning to crest, “he hits everyone.”

Growing up just up the road in Schenectady, Stire and Brown crossed paths early and often.

“I went to the summer camp in the summer when I was younger,” said Stire, who also attended what he calls, “a couple of [Albany] games” every season, but admits that he “wasn’t really a big fan” of the program.

The Great Danes didn’t leave an immediate impression on a young Stire, and the feelings were mutual going the other way.

“Well, of course we didn’t recruit him until late — why are we going to recruit a kid who doesn’t even like our program,” laughs Brown, before growing more serious. “I’ll be honest, I noticed him when he was younger because he was always a big kid, but he didn’t do anything that wowed me.”

By the time he got to high school, Stire was playing virtually in Brown’s backyard, suiting up for nearby Christian Brothers Academy. At Christian Brothers, Stire was a two-time All-Big Ten selection as a junior and senior in 2013 and 2014, respectively. As a senior captain, Stire averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead his team to a Section II AA Section Championship.

But playing in a small league against small post players, Stire’s phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

“There were a couple of people talking to me, but nothing was really serious,” says Stire of his recruitment, or lack thereof, entering the summer before his senior year, a critical time for a college recruit. “I definitely didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity to play Division I basketball.”

Says Brown: “He got a lot of height baskets in high school just by virtue of being bigger than everyone, but at the Division I level, unless you’re 6’11”, you aren’t going to be able to get those.”

But the more Brown watched Stire play AAU for the local Albany City Rocks, the more he began to see a skill set — and, much more importantly, mentality — that not only translated to Division I hoops, but was in scant supply amongst the college ranks.

“He was the guy who did all the dirty work — didn’t get touches, but defended, rebounded and was physical,” says Brown.

Boy was he physical.

“We needed to teach him how to use that physicality to his advantage. He would just hit everybody that got in his way: He would run through them,” laughs Brown of Stire’s propensity for trucking teammates in open runs and practices. “We had to calm him down so he didn’t hurt anyone.”

For his own part, Stire shrugs off his physical disposition, saying simply, “I wasn’t ever going to be the biggest or the fastest, that was out of my hands, but I could always control how hard I played.”

Getting Stire to self-promote is like pulling teeth, but when pressed repeatedly to describe himself as a player, he calls himself: “A hustle player, I guess. Just play defense, get rebounds, and do whatever I can and whatever it takes to help the team win.”

When he first set foot on campus this summer, neither Stire, Brown, or any of his teammates were expecting the young bruiser to play at all this season, let alone to be a fixture in the Great Danes rotation.

“Nah, we were actually talking about redshirting, but when the season came around we decided I wasn’t going to redshirt,” he says of whether he expected to be playing double-digit minutes.

“I thought he had a chance to be a good one down the road,” says Brown. “Our mindset was to redshirt him in year one.”

But during the preseason Stire beat and bludgeoned his way out of a redshirt and into the lineup.

“He was really competitive, physical, athletic,” says Brown. “He forced me to play him. The kid was completely on board to redshirt, but I had no choice the way he was playing.”

According to Brown, while the numbers might not yet show it, Stire has grown dramatically already as a freshman.

“He’s really learned about angles, he’s learned what he needs to do to score at this level ,” says the coach. “He’s starting to develop a go-to move, and he’s working on a counter-move.”

But Brown’s biggest surprise from Stire’s freshman campaign?

“How a guy from Christian Brothers in Albany, New York, learned to cut hair with a set of clippers, I’ll never know,” laughs Brown.

According to Stire, while he was a late bloomer on the court, cutting hair was something that always came naturally to him.

“My dad cut my hair, and my older brother cut everyone’s hair, and when he went off to college I guess you could say the torch was passed on,” he says.

According to Stire, it took a while to convince his teammates to let him take scissors, clippers and a straight edge to their locks.

“I had to show them all the different cuts I had given people on instagram,” he laughs.

But now, everyone on the team, as well as several of the assistant coaches, come to Stire for a fresh cut and a lineup.

“I feel kind of bad, because he doesn’t charge anyone at all, and he probably should,” says senior co-captain Sam Rowley.

“He cuts all our guys’ hair, and he leaves his little trademark: Three little lines on the back of your hair,” says a beaming Brown.

Everyone on the team save for one.

“No, Greig’s won me over with a lot of his ability, but that’s one bridge we aren’t going to cross,” laughs Brown, before reconsidering. “Well, if he helps us get back to the NCAAs, I’ll think about it.”

A trip down memory lane: The winning streak that spurred the 2004-2005 Vermont Catamounts

When the final buzzer sounded Saturday afternoon in Bangor, Maine, Albany head coach Will Brown once again found himself in totally uncharted territory: A perfect 9-0 to open America East play, riding a nine game winning streak, both all-time bests in the program’s Division I history.

The Danes’ 9-0 America East record is the best start to conference play that the league has seen in the past nine years. Ten years ago, however, the America East bore witness to an even better one, as the 2004-2005 Vermont Catamounts – one of the greatest teams in conference history — rattled off 13-straight league wins before they finally registered a conference loss.

“That was a great team because everyone knew their roles” said former Vermont point guard T.J. Sorrentine during an earlier.

“We had our golden boys in Taylor [Coppenrath] and T.J. [Sorrentine] and we had great role players like a [Germain] Mopa-Njila and a [David] Hehn who knew exactly what they were supposed to do and embraced it,” remember former Vermont head coach Tom Brennan.

The 2004-2005 Catamounts featured a pair of 2,000-plus point scorers in Coppenrath, an unstoppable 6-foot-9 inch power forward with unworldly footwork, an uncanny ability to constantly beat his man to his spot, an unconscious shooting stroke out to behind the arc, and a preternatural scoring ability, and Sorrentine, a 5’11” ball of swgger, charisma, and fearless scoring abandon – not to mention 3-point range to well beyond the state lines, the Catamounts could put up points in bunches.

One of just two players in America East history to win the conference Player of the Year award three times, Coppenrath finished his career third in conference history in scoring with 2,442 points. The 2002 America East Player of the Year as a sophomore, Sorrentine finished his career 13th in league history in scoring (2,013 points) and second in career- 3-pointers (354).

“It was definitely an unbelievable team,” said Coppenrath in an interview over the summer. “T.J. and I were roommates and teammates for five years, and we just always knew where the other was on the court at all times.”

But according to Brennan, Coppernath and Sorrentine, it was players like Mopa-Njila, a super athletic, lock-down defender and tenacious rebounder as a 6’4” small forward, Hehn, a relentless defender and all-around glue guy as a 6’5” shooting guard, and Martin Klimes, a 6’8” center with a knack for tacking charges and dishing out elbows, who made the team go.

Vermont started out the season with a hard-fought 68-61 loss at perennial power Kansas, with Coppenrath and Jayhawk future NBAer Wayne Simien going shot for shot in the post. The Catamounts then destroyed Maris and Iona, each by 20 or more points, with Sorrentine scoring 31 points in the first victory, and Coppenrath pouring in 32 in the next.

Taylor Coppenrath. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics
Taylor Coppenrath. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics

After a surprising loss to American, the Catamounts started conference play early, and were off to the races, with Coppenrath pouring in 39 points and ripping down 12 rebounds in a 30-point win over Binghamton and his one-time arch-nemesis, Bearcats 7-footer Nick Billings.

The Catamounts lost their next game to national power North Carolina, but then rattled off 15 straight wins, with victories over non-conference foes Siena, Holy Cross and Dartmouth sprinkled in amidst 12 America East wins. Coppenrath scored 22 or more points 10 times during the 15 game overall winning streak and eight times in the 13-0 start to America East play. Coppenrath cracked 30 points three times during the Catamounts blitzkrieg of the America East, while Sorrentine broke 30 twice.

The Catamounts winning streak finally came to an end on Feb. 12 at Boston University, with Coppenrath scoring 37 points while the Terriers ran a triangle-2 defense with the “two” both covering Coppenrath for all 94 feet of hardwood.

After the loss to Boston University, the Catamounts immediately bounced back, rattling off three more America East wins to clinch the regular season title, with their only loss in that stretch coming against a Nevada squad stacked with future NBA talent as the marquee matchup of the original ESPN Bracket Buster.

With the regular season title wrapped up, Brennan chose to sit Coppenrath and Sorrentine for the final game of the regular season, and the Catamounts fell 87-66 at Maine.

The dynamic duo showed absolutely no rust in the conference tournament held in Binghamton, leading Vermont to a 76-61 quarterfinal win over UMBC, followed by a 76-65 win over the tournament hosts in the semifinals, and an 80-57 destruction over a JJ Barea-led second-seed Northeastern in the Championship Game. Sorrentine was terrific during the Catamounts third-straight America East Tournament championship, scoring a combined 56 points over the three games.

But Coppenrath was otherworldly, putting together arguably the greatest America East Tournament performance in league history, scoring 33, 34 and 37 points, respectively, in the three wins.

The run to the NCAAs, of course, set up a showdown in the NCAA Tournament First Round at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, between the 13-seed Catamounts and four-seed Syracuse, a team led by Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara that many pundits had picked as a dark horse to win the NCAA Tournament.

The results of that game, of course, continue to reverberate around the college basketball landscape a decade later, with Sorrentine’s 28-foot 3-pointer in overtime propelling the Catamounts to a 60-57 overtime upset.

What many forget was that it was Mopa-Njila who stepped up and carried the Catamounts for most of the game, scoring a career-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, to go with nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, among them several momentum-changing dunks and the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:55 left and subsequent steal on the other end to set up Sorrentine’s heroics.

Germain Mopa-Njila. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics.
Germain Mopa-Njila. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics.

Vermont’s season came to an end, valiantly, in the second round, with the Catamounts giving Michigan State everything the Spartans could handle, before falling 72-61. It was truly one of the most remarkable post season runs in America East history, but it began with one of the greatest regular season win streaks the conference has seen.

Only time will tell whether this year’s red-hot Great Danes squad can follow suit.

T.J. Sorrentine scored over 2,000 points during his career at Vermont, including the biggest shot in Catamount history. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay
T.J. Sorrentine scored over 2,000 points during his career at Vermont, including the biggest shot in Catamount history. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay

OBW America East Power Rankings v10

Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

With seven games left in the regular season, and a full two game lead over second-place Vermont, the America East regular season title – and coveted home court advantage throughout the new conference playoff format — is officially Albany’s to lose. The Great Danes have been nothing short of remarkable since conference play started, knocking off all of the next five teams below them in the standings on the road.

That alone has been truly remarkable, but considering that Albany has won the last five games without their leading scorer and arguably their best player Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she valiantly fought cancer before passing away on Friday, defies words.

After Albany, it’s a dogfight for the next three spots in the standings – a top four finish guaranteeing a first round home game in the America East playoffs.

So without further ado, here’s a look around the league at the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (14-7, 9-0 in AE)
Results: W 47-44 at Vermont; W 77-59 at Maine
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs UMass Lowell.
You would be hard pressed to find a team in the country that has been dealing with more adversity – on and especially off the court – than Albany, which has played six of its first nine league contests on the road, including games against the next five top teams in the standings, and come out on top every time. Couple that with the far larger life and death issues that team co-captain Peter Hooley and his family were facing a world away – and the passing of Hooley’s mother, Sue, on Friday – and Albany’s run to 9-0 in league play is one of the most remarkable and inspiring in league history.

In Hooley’s absence, point guard Evan Singletary has emerged as a dynamic scorer and star, capable of putting points on the board in bunches and hitting the big shot, including the game-winning 3-pointer against Vermont. Sam Rowley continues to play like a First Team All-Conference forward in the low blocks, and freshman Wheeler Baker may have forced his way permanently into the rotation with his hot shooting.

2. New Hampshire (12-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 63-58 at Maine; W 63-48 vs Stony Brook.
This Week: Wednesday at Albany; Saturday vs UMBC.
We have never had the Wildcats this high in our Power Rankings this late in the season, but this team truly looks legit. New Hampshire is defending the way Bill Herrion teams are supposed to – ferociously – and, unlike any previous incarnate, they can score the ball – it may be ugly at times, but they can score. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner is making a strong case to be considered not simply for All-Rookie honors (he should be a lock for those) but First Team All-Conference honors, scoring from all over the court at an increasingly efficient clip. Red-shirt senior shooting guard Matt Miller, playing in his first year of Division I hoops, has emerged as the conference’s best long range shooter, and combined with Daniel Dion finally gives Herrion legitimate floor spacing shooters from behind the arc. New Hampshire has benefitted a bit from playing the top of the league at home, and they may drop back down a bit in the standings as they go on the road in the second half of the AE slate, but they appear to be a legit Top-4 team. And the way they defend the ball, I don’t think anyone is going to want to play them in March.

3. Vermont (12-10, 7-2 AE)
Results: L 47-44 vs Albany; W 65-46 at Hartford
This week: Tuesday vs Maine; Saturday at Stony Brook
Vermont dropped another spot in our rankings, but, honestly, there’s no reason anyone should be disappointed with the Catamounts: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after graduating six seniors. Instead, Vermont looks primed to make another run at the NCAAs. The Catamounts are getting scoring from across their roster, and showed just how good they can be by beating Hartford behind an incredibly balanced offensive attack in which eight players scored – among them a monster game from back-up freshman point guard Cam Ward, who pulled down 13 rebounds to go with eight points. But the Cats’ are showing signs of freshman fatigue, and will need to get more consistency from their upper class frontcourt of Ethan O’Day and Hector Harold if they are going to punch through to the NCAAs.

4. Stony Brook (15-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 72-66 vs Hartford; L 63-48 at New Hampshire
This Week: Saturday vs Vermont
OK Seawolves fans, It is officially time to be worried about Stony Brook’s prospects this year. No matter how good junior center Jameel Warney is – and the 6’8” 260-pound behemoth is as good as it gets at this level – he simply can not do it alone, and right now, he’s the only player giving Stony Brook consistent production. Freshman point guard Carson Puriefoy has been erratic at best and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew seems to have hit a wall. Unless Puriefoy and McGrew can find a second wind, or the Seawolves freshmen can find a second gear down the stretch, Stony Brook is going to be an underdog (albeit not a major one) to go to the big dance.

5. Hartford (11-11, 4-5 AE)
Results: L 72-66 at Stony Brook; L 65-46 vs Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton
Seawolves fans should be concerned, but Hartford supporters should be in full-fledged freak-out mode. As we’ve said all along, when the Hawks are running their offense through star senior Mark Nwakamma, senior Corban Wroe is getting to the rim, and the entire team is knocking down open threes, they can beat anyone. The problem is – aside from Wroe’s growth – they are the exact same team they were two years ago, when they were bested by sixth-seed UMBC in the America East Tournament quarterfinals, and they are absolutely no better than last year’s squad, which was beaten thoroughly by Stony Brook in the tournament semis. Even at full strength, Hartford’s game plan relies far too heavily on outside shooting – far too unreliable to count on to win three straight games in March to go to the NCAAs. Far scarier, however, is that this team may not be at full strength, as Nwakamma went down with a leg injury against Vermont and was in a considerable amount of pain. Word is that the Hawks are hoping it is simply a bone bruise or sprain, but that there is serious concern that he tore a ligament in his knee. Without Nwakamma, Hartford flat out can not get to the NCAAs – and with six seniors on the roster, its now or back to square one for head coach John Gallagher.

6. Binghamton (4-20, 3-6 in AE)
Results: W 68-56 at UMBC; W 76-69 vs UMass Lowell
This Week: Tuesday vs Hartford; Saturday at Maine
They say it’s always darkest just before the darn, and things sure were pitch-black at the beginning of January for Binghamton, which had lost former star Jordan Reed on top of losing 14 straight games in a row. One month later, and there is again light at the end of the tunnel for the Bearcats, who have won back-to-back games while also competing as equals against the likes of New Hampshire, Stony Brook, and even for a little more than a half against Vermont. Freshman Willie Rodriguez appears to have turned the corner and is looking like the do-everything All-Rookie type performer he was billed as, fellow freshman Justin McFadden is doing a bit of everything, and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, who was supposed to just be a body, has given the Bearcats toughness and a scoring punch on the low blocks.

7. UMass Lowell (9-13, 3-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-69 at Binghamton
This Week: Thursday vs UMBC; Saturday at Albany
After consistently out-performing expectations all season long, the River Hawks have hit a bit of a wall, losing five straight. The struggles are to be expected for a team that has nine new faces on its roster, and a team counting on freshmen to carry almost its entire scoring load – let alone a team in just its second year of Division I hoops. Red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas continues to be a man among boys, and a giant among post players despite standing just 6’2”, shrugging off double and triple teams to score at a outstanding rate while also attacking the boards, making pinpoint passes and making all the little plays. Freshmen Matt Harris, Brad Schaub and Lance Crawford are all making strides on the court and showing growth, and the quartet of young, impact players make for an incredibly bright future along the Merrimack River. However, in the here and now, Lowell is quite possibly the smallest team in all of Division I and without a reliable second scoring option next to Thomas, the River Hawks will struggle.

8. Maine (2-20, 1-8 in AE)
Results: L 63-58 vs New Hampshire; L 77-59 vs Albany
This Week: Tuesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Binghamton
The record might not reflect it, but Maine has made some big strides as of late and the Black Bears have climbed out of the OBW Power Rankings basement. Undermanned and outgunned virtually every night they take the floor, Maine is playing hard and competing until the final horn. Freshmen guards Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little have looked darn good (although Little has missed considerable time due to injuries and other circumstances). And Maine’s four guard lineup, with Shaun Lawton playing the power forward position, is a tough matchup for opponents.

9. UMBC (3-18, 1-7 in AE)
Results: L 68-56 vs Binghamton
This week: Thursday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at New Hampshire
UMBC falls to the bottom of our Power Rankings, but through no fault of their players or staff. The Retrievers – the most undermanned team in the entire league — have fought the incredibly admirable fight all season long, finding ways to compete every night despite dressing just six scholarship players and eight total bodies. But with the loss of graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow, the team’s do-everything shooting guard and leading scorer, UMBC has been reduced to just seven bodies and five scholarship players.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany

Singletary’s 13th and final points at Vermont came on his game-winning 3-pointer in a 47-44 win. The Baltimore native followed that up by tying his career-high with 21 points in a romp at Maine. Singletary added 12 rebounds and nine assists over the two games.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire

The longer the season goes, the better Leissner gets, and the better that Leissner gets, the more legit the Wildcats continue to look. The 6’8” Texan notched a pair of double-doubles in back-to-back New Hampshire wins, posting 11 points and 12 rebounds at Maine, and coming up huge with 19 and 11 in a beat-down of Stony Brook.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell