By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The signature moment of Tuesday night’s men’s basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion should have been University of Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy’s 3-point shot from 27 feet with 10 minutes remaining and the shot clock running down.
Or maybe it should have been the senior point guard’s workmanlike rebound and putback for a one-point lead with 16.7 seconds remaining.
Yet, the true signature moment of the night came with five minutes to play against a tired-yet-overachieving University of Albany team. That’s when Gaddy and teammate Desmond Simmons were left standing in the lane after Albany’s 9-2 run tied the score at 52. The UW teammates shouted at each other, palms raised skyward in confusion, as the visiting Great Danes celebrated a made basket.
It was symptomatic of the evening. Senior Scott Suggs was knocked out of the game by a concussion.
UW go-to scorer C.J. Wilcox was struggling. A pair of 5-foot-something Albany guards were lighting the Huskies up. No wonder the less-than-capacity crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion wore a what-in-the-name-of-Albany look of bewilderment.
And when the final buzzer sounded Tuesday night, people in the hushed arena held that stare. How could an America East Conference team — led no less by a point guard who had just two Division I scholarship offers but who dribbled past UW defenders all night long — knock off the Huskies?
“The biggest win in program history,” Albany point guard Mike Black said after scoring the final two of his game-high 22 points on another blow-by drive to the basket with 3.7 seconds remaining. The basket gave the Great Danes an improbable 63-62 win.
For the Huskies, the loss might not have ranked quite as historic, but it did mark another low for a UW program that had more than a few of them last season.
This loss will linger for the Huskies (1-1). Even optimistic head coach Lorenzo Romar was scratching his head at his team’s slow start, the scrambled offensive sets and UW’s inability to stop Black and fellow guard Jacob Iati (20 points, 18 coming on 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range).
“If this is a recurring theme,” Romar said, “it will be a big blow to us down the road.”
The lasting memory will not be of the Gaddy-Simmons exchange but of Black driving past C.J. Wilcox for a left-handed layup in the closing seconds. That came after Gaddy had rebounded a missed UW free throw between two defenders and made an off-balance shot off the glass for a 62-61 lead with 16.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
Romar took 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye off the floor during the timeout that followed, and Albany (2-1) attacked the lack of size by giving Black the ball at the top of the key and allowing him to drive for the final shot.
“I told Coach (during the timeout): ‘I want the ball,’” said Black, who didn’t even realize that N’Diaye had been pulled off the floor until reporters informed him of that a few minutes after the game.
Wilcox said he was trying to keep Black from going to his dominant hand on the right side and that he thought he might have a teammate waiting to provide help.
“You’re always expecting help,” he said, “but I should have done a better job.”
Romar said he went with a smaller lineup to defend Albany’s pick-and-roll game. He wanted the Huskies to switch on any screen and hoped to avoid getting N’Diaye caught in a one-on-one matchup with one of the Great Danes’ guards.
Asked whether he would make the same substitution if he had it to do over again, Romar said he would. But he also took the blame for the loss, saying his team was not well enough prepared for the Great Danes’ offense.
Romar refused to use the loss of Suggs as an excuse for the loss, even though the Huskies had to play the final 38:10 without their fifth-year senior. He was injured while running down the court and into an inadvertent elbow from Black, who was raising his arms and calling for the ball.
Suggs went down hard and struggled to get up, much like a knocked-out prize fighter, before trainers helped him into the locker room. He stayed there the entire night, eventually getting diagnosed with a concussion.
Almost all of Albany’s offense came from its backcourt — 42 of the 63 points — and yet the big men got into the action during a key stretch in the final minutes. The Great Danes, who were coming off games against Duquesne and fourth-ranked Ohio State in the four days leading up to Tuesday night, rallied from an eight-point deficit behind the pick-and-roll game that led to open layup after open layup.
“I was so concerned about us being fatigued and tired and losing our legs,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “I thought we really had to weather the storm the first 10 minutes of the game. But it’s a great win for us.”
Brown, who is in his 12th year at the school, said Tuesday’s win ranked right behind his program’s two NCAA tournament-clinching victories on his all-time list.
Then there was Black, a Chicago native and self-described “late-bloomer” whose only other D-I offer was from North Florida. The senior called Tuesday night’s win the biggest of his career, and he added that he was surprised by how easy it was to get to the basket all night.
“When we would screen, I was surprised (N’Diaye) wasn’t hedging,” said Black, who scored 20 points against Ohio State defensive stopper Aaron Craft two days earlier. “Every time, I would get a step on my defender, and he didn’t move. I got to the rim really easily — surprisingly.”
The most surprised people at Hec Ed on Tuesday night were the ones wearing the UW jerseys — not just on the court, but also in the stands. Shell-shocked would be the best way to describe the thin crowd of 7,041 fans who watched the Huskies lose to a program from a low-Division I conference for the second year in a row.
On the same floor where South Dakota State celebrated last December, the Great Danes of Albany had quite a party of their own.
“For us to beat a high-major like this, especially a team like Washington that’s going to win a lot of games and has a chance to win the Pac-12, it means the world,” Albany’s Iati said before the team headed to the airport for a scheduled 3 a.m. flight this morning.
“Now we’re their biggest fans the rest of the season. The more games they win, the better it is for us.”