COLUMBUS, Ohio (CBSNewYork/AP) — University at Albany players watched as the underdogs stole the show in the first full round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Great Danes know they have an opportunity to become the third No. 14 seed to make it out of the field of 64 when they face off against Oklahoma on Friday night. Notre Dame was the only third-seeded team to survive and advance Thursday, barely hanging on against Northeastern.
“We are aware,” forward Sam Rowley said, according to the Albany Times Union. “We were watching the games. You know, it gives us a little bit of motivation, a little bit of excitement.”
“We still have to go out there and play,” added Albany guard Evan Singletary. “Anyone can be beat. It’s March Madness. One loss and you are gone.”
Just ask the Sooners, who have not forgotten this cruel fact: They haven’t won a game on the biggest college basketball stage since 2009.
“It’s been in the back of our heads,” leading scorer and Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield said. “We had a couple of great practices to prepare us for this game and we’re just ready to get after it now.”
Added Ryan Spangler of the early losses in the NCAA Tournament: “We don’t want that to happen to us again.”
A year ago, Oklahoma was seeded fifth when it was ousted 80-75 by North Dakota State right off the bat.
The Sooners (22-10) and Albany have each made the tournament three years in a row. Now, they badly want to stick around for a while.
“We’re here to win a game,” Great Danes coach Will Brown said. “We’re here to win more than one game.”
The Great Danes (24-8) won in the First Four a year ago, but have yet to win when the stakes and the attention are highest.
“We played Duke first (in 2013), then Florida last year, and obviously they’re major programs,” Albany guard Peter Hooley said. “We just try to let these guys know on our team that anything can happen. It’s March.”
Other noteworthy items from the Sooners-Great Danes matchup:
QUOTE OF THE DAY I
Albany’s Brown: “I think if Hooley hits 10 3s and Rowley fouls out their entire front court, we should be in good shape.”
BAD DAY NO. 3 SEEDS
No. 3-seeded Big 12 member Iowa State was upset in its opening NCAA game on Thursday by 14th-seeded UAB, 60-59. Then No. 3-seeded Big 12 member Baylor was upset in its opening game by 14th-seeded Georgia State, 57-56.
See a trend?
“I’m very surprised,” said Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger, coach of a three-seeded Big 12 member playing a 14 seed. “Two great teams that had great years and outstanding players. That’s the nature of the NCAA Tournament, I guess. It’s surprising anytime that happens, but it’s happened before.”
His players might have been unsettled by what took place Thursday — turning a lot of brackets into scratch pads — but they weren’t showing it.
“I think (those results) help us,” Spangler said. “It shows us that anybody can beat anybody when it comes to March. And we’ll be thinking about those two losses tonight, see what went wrong, and try not to let it happen to us tomorrow.”
As for the Great Danes, they looked at the upsets as potentially an omen.
“It can happen. It does happen,” Rowley said. “And hopefully it will happen.”
THE HOOLEY FACTOR
Albany got into the NCAAs thanks to Hooley’s 3 at the buzzer to beat Stony Brook in the America East title game. The shot came less than a month after he returned from Australia to be with his mother, Sue, who died of cancer on Jan. 30.
“I firmly believe that (Hooley’s) mom caught that ball and threw it through the hoop for us,” Brown told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Monday.
The story has reverberated around the globe, inspiring many.
“I’m glad that I’ve heard a lot from people saying they’ve been touched by the story and it’s helped them in many ways,” Hooley said. “I said from the start, if it inspires one person to get through a tough time, then it’s done its job.”