Down 13 in the second half, the defending America East champion Great Danes (4-4) stormed back to beat the Crimson (5-4), 79-76, in a thrilling game at Lavietes Pavilion that featured four lead changes and seven ties.
In the process, Albany, which came close to upsetting No. 1 seed UConn in last year’s NCAA tournament, snapped the Crimson’s four-game winning streak and avenged last season’s upset loss to Harvard.
“They’re really good, experienced players who have been through a lot of pressure situations,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said of an Albany squad which was picked to repeat in the America East this year.
“Their experience showed, more than our inexperience showing,” he added.
Despite Albany’s comeback, the Crimson had several chances to tie the score at 79 in the final 30 seconds after Albany guard Brian Lillis hit only one of two free throws. Captain Jim Goffredo had his first attempt from three-point range blocked by Lillis, but a travelling call on the Great Danes’ guard gave the ball back to Harvard. Goffredo got more separation on his next look, several feet behind the line at the top of the key, but his shot hit off the front iron. The Crimson’s final chance came on junior guard James Lambert’s desparation attempt from well behind the arc, but Lillis, who finished with four rejections on the night, rose up to knock down the shot once more as the buzzer expired.
“This is a game that these kids wanted,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “Harvard didn’t lose—our guys won this game. I’m proud of them, because we could have folded when we were down 13.”
After Harvard built a 51-38 lead with 14:11 to play, the Great Danes began their charge. Forward Brent Wilson hit a three to cut the lead to 10, and then guard Jason Siggers went off. Beginning with a dunk, Siggers scored 13 of Albany’s next 15 points to turn the game into a dogfight.
“He’s like the microwave—he heats up for five or six minutes every game,” Brown said. “He made big shot after big shot. If you’re going to be a good basketball team, you need guys that have no fear, that aren’t afraid to make plays.”
At the end of a frenetic, up-and-down sequence in which each team hit baskets on four straight possessions, the Great Danes, thanks to a pair of threes from Siggers, had cut the lead to 63-59 with 9:20 to play.
From that point, Albany kept chipping at the lead, tying the score on four different occasions before a pair of free throws from guard Jamar Wilson put Albany up 76-74 with 1:38 to play. After freshman point guard Drew Housman missed a jumper in a vain attempt to draw a foul, Wilson put the dagger into the Crimson, showing why he is the defending America East Player of the Year.
After missing a layup, the 6’1 guard, who led the Great Danes with an average of over seven rebounds per game entering last night, grabbed his own miss and knocked home the follow, making it a two-possession game with 30 seconds left.
Wilson finished with a game-high nine rebounds, and fellow-guard Lillis grabbed seven, highlighting the Great Danes’ critical 40-31 advantage on the boards.
In addition to the rebounding woes, the Crimson, after holding Albany to 33 percent from the floor in the first half and just 1-of-11 shooting from three to take a 33-31 lead into the break, saw its defense collapse in the second half to the tune of 55 percent shooting from Albany, including 5-of-9 from three.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.