Consider each half of Albany's 81-72 win as two games; there is a decisive winner of both halves. The Siena Saints were blown out in the first half, but the Albany Great Danes' depth in the frontcourt was challenged in the second.
So while the score was close, Albany had Siena's number in a rivalry game that had more than a needed share of chirping from the coaches; it was the first time in 16 Albany Cup games that the contest was played at SEFCU Arena, a point of contention between the programs.
Albany won behind 29 points from guard David Nichols and 20 from Joe Cremo (18 in the second half); Mike Rowley added 10. Cremo had five assists and Nichols had four.
Siena was led by 18 from Marquis Wright, 16 from Nico Clareth, and 11 from Javion Ogunyemi and 10 from Lavon Long; who chipped in a team-leading eight rebounds and a team-leading four assists.
Siena and Albany traded shots early on, though the night's star David Nichols set the tone. From the first possession, even as Albany looked to be patient, Nichols flashed a speed with the ball in his hands that gave the Siena defenders fits. And on the other end, Albany worked to offset their size disadvantage by doubling and tripling Javion Ogunyemi of Siena.
"Offensively we executed the game plan to a T," Albany coach Will Brown said after improving to 4-2 on the season. "Defensively, we executed for 30 minutes."
"We fell behind early," said Siena's Jimmy Patsos after the game, where the Saints fell to 2-4, "and we just didn't handle it well. A lot of guys were a little out of sorts."
Siena's Nico Clareth and Lavon Long were on the court together for the first time this season, as both have served suspensions for violations of Athletic Department rules.
Patsos continued, "us playing our team together for the first time against one of the better mid major programs in the country [did not help]. That cost us. That and [David] Nichols being unbelievable."
So when Nico Clareth came in and the three-pointers stopped falling for Jimmy Patsos' Saints, and when the frustration turnovers started mounting, the Great Danes were already warmed up. Albany led by 18 points at the half, a half where the Saints had taken nearly 58% of their shots from outside the arc. The half also ended with three players with two fouls and two with three fouls for Siena.
But back to David Nichols...
Nichols was impressive, scoring a career-high 29 points, evenly distributed by half. In his 39 minutes, he continuously made tough shots and aggressively attacked in transition. Siena's transition defense twisted and turned to contain Nichols, but the long shots Siena took in the first half helped power Nichols' ability to attack the basket running.
Nichols spent most of last year glued to the bench, and did not play in last year's Albany Cup. So Patsos hadn't seen how good he has become.
"I knew [Nichols] was good, I watched tape," Patsos said. "He was quicker and more powerful in person. He made good pull ups. He was just tough. I thought we’d match him, but he outplayed [Kadeem Smithen and Khalil Richard]."
"I don't know how you can not know how good David is," Brown responded when told of [a paraphrased version of] Patsos' comments. "He puts that ball in the basket, he does it at a high rate, he's consistently. There’s a lot of film out there. David’s good."
"It doesn’t surprise me what David does because he puts in the time," said Albany's Joe Cremo. "Sitting behind Evan [Singletary] was tough last year and he could have complained, but he comes in to practice every day and works hard, he deserves everything that he gets."
Patsos picked up a technical foul as the Saints were mounting a furious comeback in the second half, raining down 52 points (at 1.60 points per possession) with Nico Clareth (16 points, all in the second half) getting hot.
Why the technical? In Patsos' words:
"Our senior player Brett Bisping drives in there and [gets called for the charge]. It’s a big play, his fourth foul in the game. I said 'Brian, you’re not supposed to call charges in [the charge circle]'. I turned around, took two steps, and I got a technical."
"Now, if there was a bad word slipped in there, my subconscious mind may have put that it in there and I might not know it. But the rule is that you can’t take a charge in there. And our guy got a charge called on him in that circle, and they’ve painted like six of them in there and they have 25 meetings a year on."
"They’re all really good refs. But we got fired up from it."
As for Siena, the veteran team needs to find itself. This team has the talent to compete for the MAAC championship, but has some flaws on the floor, in particular in terms of intensity/ team play.
"We’re gonna keep shooting threes," said Patsos about the team's shot selection, "and that’s on me as a coach. I thought some of our looks were good, I thought some of our looks we shouldn’t have taken. We have some soul searching to do and I wanted to play good teams to learn from it."
Marquis Wright, whose offense was the most consistent part of the Siena attack added, "we just didn’t come out with intensity from the beginning. We gotta come out from the beginning and be ready to play. We fought hard, but they were the better team tonight."