Three Wildcats had tremendous performances. Curtis Sumpter finished with 23 points and nine rebounds on 8-12 shooting. Randy Foye also registered 23 points, on 8-15 shooting, including 4-8 from beyond the arc. Finally, best of all, Allan Ray rocked the Pavilion for 26 points to join the 1,000 point club. For Albany, Jamar Wilson finished with 19 points to lead the way, Lucious Jordan contributed 16 points, and freshman Brent Wilson scored 15 points, including five triples.
Villanova displayed a remarkable holiday spirit to their guests from Albany, surrendering an appalling 72 points. That may not sound so bad in absolute terms, but when you take into consideration that the Wildcats entered the game as the most miserly Scrooges in the nation, ranked first nationally in both points allowed and field goal percentage defense - well, that's disappointing. Moreover, the Wildcats had yet to allow more than 53 points in a game. How did it happen? Basically, unconscious outside shooting from Albany. The Great Danes growled their way to a shocking 52% from three point range and an impressive 54% overall. It was bound to happen, sooner or later.
Albany hung around a lot longer than it should have. After Villanova zoomed out to a 28-18 first-half lead, the Great Danes pulled to just 33-32 at intermission. Villanova once again appeared to have the game in hand, after Ray canned a three roughly midway through the second half to give 'Nova a 68-50 lead. However, the Great Danes were as close as 73-68 with less than five minutes to play, after Wilson made yet another three-pointer. Fortunately, the 'Cats were able to repel the Great Danes' charge, winning by double-digits - Villanova won the rest of the game 13-4.
Villanova improved to 5-1 overall, winning its fourth straight game. The Wildcats haven't lost since December 4, to Temple at the Palestra. Albany fell to 4-4 overall. The Great Danes are currently engaged in a highly arduous road trip, as Albany just played its seventh road game (out of eight total). The trip will also continue with (gulp) a visit to the Carrier Dome on Tuesday.
While Albany was only slightly better competition than the UMBC team Villanova crushed in the season opener, the Great Danes still provided some drama as to the outcome. The Retrievers were picked to finish 10th in the ten-school America East conference, while Albany was a marginally better 8th. (Vermont, the alma mater of former Villanova mentor Rollie Massimino, was favored to finish first.) Albany is coming off a calamitous season in which the Great Danes went 5-23 overall, 3-15 America East, finishing dead last. By Albany standards, they have had a decent season, losing their only home game against Long Island in overtime. Moreover, the Great Danes have BLOWOUT victories at Sacred Heart, Siena (its crosstown opponent), and Army, winning each by 18 points or more, as well as a 12 point victory at Hartford.
This was the first-ever meeting between the schools, which was not surprising in light of the fact that the Great Danes have only competed in Division I, since the 1999-2000 season. Entering the game, Albany had posted a not unimpressive 4-16 record against schools currently in the Big East (although not necessarily as Big East members). However, since Albany joined Division I in the 21st century, the Great Danes have challenged Big East opponents on four prior occasions, three of them against Syracuse. They have never come closer than 19 points in any of them. The best showing they have managed was a 79-60 loss, at the RAC to Rutgers on Valentine's Day, 2000. However, the Great Danes were obviously hopelessly outgunned and on the road in three of those four games. Syracuse actually came to the Pepsi Arena to play Albany in 2001, winning 91-65; it was probably a 3-for-1 deal since Albany has gone to the Carrier Dome twice and will be there again next week. It seems possible, based on tonight, that the Great Danes might have more success against the Orangemen than in the past. Albany is, quite simply, a work in progress. The head coach, Will Brown, is just 33 and already in his fourth season at the helm.
Worth noting: Will Sheridan and Great Dane freshman Joe Dyson were high school teammates at Delaware's Sanford School; Great Danes tri-captain Christopher Wyatt is from the Philadelphia area; he played at Montgomery County's Hatboro-Horsham High.
Ray Watch: The junior guard finally attained the millenial milestone, exploding for 26 points on 10-16 shooting. He is the first Wildcat to join the club since Ricky Wright.
The Wildcats continue this long homestand, when MTSU arrives at the Pavilion right after Christmas.