Both teams were stunned at the final buzzer up in Albany, NY. Albany, having never lost a home game this season, and the Hartford Hawks coming in as the clear underdogs, it was almost as if the scores were switched. If I had mentioned the Albany/Hartford score ended with a 68-59 victory, almost anyone would have assumed Albany had won. It was like a Twilight universe, but instead just wasn't Albany's night.
Hartford had the advantage, even if it was just superstition. It's hard to beat a team three times and well, sometimes even the best fall in the end.
Hartford had a plan when they left SEFCU Arena after their final game of the regular season. They expected to come back to Albany and not just beat them in the quarterfinals but to beat them on their home court. "We left here Saturday night, and I don't mean to sound cocky or anything, but we knew we were going to win this game." said Hartford Head Coach John Gallagher, "Whether we won it or not, I had to convince my guys that we were gonna win."
The Hawks essentially won the game in the first half. TreyVaugh Wilkerson scored the first two points of the game, and they never looked back. As a team that tends to live or die by the three, they kicked off the first half with a wave of three-pointers. In about five minutes of play, the Hawks scored four triples, one from Jalen Ross, one from Jason Dunne and the other two from Pancake Thomas. By that point, they were up by seven, and the points kept coming.
Though the Hawks were plagued with a bit of a misstep, and by misstep I mean two missed three-pointers, a missed jumper and a foul. Obviously, this was the chance Albany needed to step back in the game and get things rolling in their favor. Instead, it was the setup for another wave of three-pointers by Hartford. This time going for five made treys in about four minutes. Evan Cooper joined the game and scored his only three points of the game, followed by one from Jack Hobbs. Thomas managed to squeeze two more in between a trey from J.R. Lynch.
If there ever were a night where the three point gods were shining down on Hartford, it was tonight.
Heading into the locker room at the half, Hartford had a 17 point advantage over the home team. That was unthinkable to just about everyone.
Three Hawks ended the game in double figures. Thomas lead the way with 16 points and both Ross and George Blagojevic picked up 13. Blagojevic missed all five of his shots in the first half, making it seem like it wasn't his night, but once the second half started, that all changed. His points were divided between on the floor and free throws almost evenly. In their last match-up, Hartford only went to the line for seven free throws. This time around, Blagojevic got to the stripe for seven in the second half alone.
Thomas and Ross stepped up in the final few games, not only as scorers but as leaders. They're both transfers in their junior year, but it's obvious they've made an impact on the team. "They've really carried the freshman through a hard season, and they did it with unbelievable leadership. They did it with great character; they did it with great energy." said Gallagher
If you look at points, Albany beat Hartford in just about every area. They picked up 26 points in the paint while Hartford only grabbed 18. They more than doubled a number of points off turnovers with 14 over Hartford's six. They had 13-second chance points to Hartford's nine. Hartford had the advantage in bench points, but only by one at 15 to 14.
But there's much to say about Albany. While they may not have won the game, they've won the hearts of thousands over the years, including mine.
Peter Hooley and Ray Sanders were the senior leaders of the game. They brought in the only double-figure points at 11 and 13 respectively. Both guys played well and had done some great things both in the game and throughout their career. Hooley stole our hearts last year after leaving the team for a few games to visiting his mother back in Australia, who was battling colon cancer. And he took it again with the winning shot against Stony Brook to win the championship game last year. It's hard not to love the guy.
"He's a loved, loved, man in Australia. He's not liked; he loved," said Gallagher "He's a special person. What he's done for the league, especially... I just think he's a special guy."
It's more than likely Albany will have some post season play, so hopefully this won't be the last of Hooley and his fellow seniors.
With this win, Hartford becomes only the second 7 seed to beat a two seed. The other one? Hartford over Vermont back in 2009 This also means they have a date with season title winners, and current one seed, the Stony Brook Seawolves on Monday night.