ALBANY – Albany used a patient approach in its game against Springfield, and eventually that patience paid off.
The Hornets rode a late fourth-quarter surge to a 52-49 win over the rival Bulldogs on Thursday.
“It was going to come down to the wire, and I told our guys that the whole time,” Albany coach Chris Carter said after his team overcame a 12-point deficit with just under six minutes to go. “(I told them we’ve) just got to keep attacking, got to believe in one another, play hard and play together.”
“I can’t say enough about our guys and their heart and their determination. Like a will to win tonight.”
A recurring theme hurt the Bulldogs in the loss.
“It’s tough for everybody because it was the little things, and it was the mindset that killed us,” Springfield coach John Hii said. “Something that I’ve been talking to them for a while about is being aggressive, and don’t be too big for the moment. Of all (the) games we’ve played, we’ve never trailed by more than 10 going into the fourth quarter, and we just struggle to finish. The moment was a little too big for us.”
“What more can you ask for from my guys? They gave great effort. We just have these lapses where we forget how to play, and in a rivalry game, you can’t afford to do that.”
The Bulldogs (2-6) led 42-30 with 5:40 to play on a pair of free throws by Ti’Shoin Thompson.
That’s when the Hornets (3-5) began their comeback with Caleb Puma as the catalyst.
Albany took advantage of Bulldog turnovers to fuel a 12-0 run in which Puma scored seven points and Damien McAlister five.
“I just turned it on, and I got in a zone and I just knew,” said Puma, who scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. “I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. I was just letting it go.”
Carter said a change in defensive approach helped the Hornets.
“It all started off with good defense,” he said. “We started pressing in the half-court and running and jumping, and I think they turned it over quite a bit and allowed us to get to the free-throw line and get some easy baskets on this end.”
The Bulldogs started moving the ball around instead of using the aggressive approach they took early in the game, which Hii said contributed to Albany’s run.
“We were aggressive on offense (early), and when we’re aggressive on offense, good things tend to happen for us,” Hii said. “We kind of took our foot off the pedal a little bit. I told them in (the locker room), that’s probably my fault because patience to me does not mean the same thing as be passive.
“When we started to take the foot off the pedal was when it all started coming undone, and we’ve watched enough film to know by now when we’re not aggressive, it is not good for us because we tend to give the other team the ball quite a bit.”
Springfield’s Bryce Johnson, who finished with 22 points, hit a pair of free throws, but Puma nailed a 3-pointer, which put the Hornets ahead 45-44.
They never trailed after that.
Johnson’s putback cut the lead to 47-46 with 1:08 to play, but the Hornets went 5-for-11 from the line down the stretch, including a 2-for-4 effort after Trevor Martin was ejected following a double technical foul.
The Hornets finished 13-for-28 from the line in the game, with McAlister going 6-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
“Coach was just telling us to take our time and be patient,” McAlister, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. “We practice free throws every day, because we’re really not a good free-throw shooting team. But when we do, we knock them down in clutch games, and we win the game.”
Johnson had a 3-pointer for Springfield’s final basket, and the Bulldogs missed a 3-point attempt, followed by a jumper at the buzzer.
Collin Hayden added 10 points for Springfield.
As frenzied as the finish was, it took some time to get there as McAlister had a couple of quick baskets to put Albany up 4-0, but the Bulldogs started to pull away as Johnson scored six straight points during a run which put the Bulldogs up 11-5.
During the stretch, the Hornets struggled from the field, while Springfield worked the boards.
Albany’s Elijah Peavoy hit a 3-pointer to get the Hornets within 11-8, but Springfield led 15-8 at the end of the first quarter on a Johnson putback.
Albany turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter, and that in tandem with the Bulldogs inability to sink shots, enabled the Hornets to cut into the lead.
McAlister’s jumper cut the lead to 23-21, but Donovan Knox had a 3-pointer to complete a 4-0 burst which gave the Bulldogs a 27-21 lead at halftime.
The scoring slowed in the third quarter as both teams struggled to find a groove, but the Bulldogs led 34-26 heading into the fourth quarter.
Both teams have an eye on the bigger picture as the season continues.
“This is going to be the start of a good season now,” Puma said. “We’ve got a good roll going, and we’re trying to link two (wins) together and link three together and keep it going.”
“I loved the game, loved the atmosphere,” Hii said of coaching in his first Albany-Springfield game. “Obviously, you’d like to come out with a ‘W’, but hopefully we learned something from it moving forward. February and March are a long way away. As long as we’re getting better, then that’s what you’re looking for.”