By Christian Hince | December 10, 2023
It was a straightforward enough tuneup game for the Great Danes on Tuesday night, who led 56-29 at halftime en route to a 98-59 home victory over the Bears.
Justin Neely (#12) played for the first time in nearly 13 months on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
Photo Credit: Bob Mayberger/UAlbany Sports
Arguably more important than the result though was the return of big man Justin Neely, who drew a round of applause from the Broadview Arena crowd of 1,653 when he stepped on the court for the first time since suffering a knee injury during last season’s Albany Cup on Nov. 11, 2022.
It was a giddy feeling for Neely, who was expected to be a major player for UAlbany in 2022-23 before losing the entire season. “I was trying to be serious, but I couldn’t sit there as they called by name,” he said. “I just started laughing, but it was a great feeling.”
After Neely stepped on the hardwood at the 14:48 mark of the first half, moments later he shared a laugh with guard Marcus Jackson who congratulated Neely on finding his way back. “I’m just happy for this guy,” Jackson said. “Not playing something you dedicate your life to for so long, I mean, that’s hard for him.”
Neely wasn’t explosive by any means, shooting 1-5 from the field and tallying five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes of play time.
Head Coach Dwayne Killings didn’t think his return to form would be immediate however. “It’s hard to expect a kid that hasn't played basketball in over a year to be perfect,” he said. “He’s got to get his timing down, he’s got to get his feet under him. It's good for him to see the ball go through the basket, I think he's just trying to get in the flow and figure it out.”
For Neely, this first means getting comfortable with the scrappier parts of basketball again. “One of my main goals is just try to rebound and defend as best as I can and let everything else come,” he said. “I'm not really rushing to get my offense going, scoring or anything like that.”
Neely’s teammates put on a well-rounded showing as he eased back into action, with five Great Danes scoring in double-figures. Marcus Jackson and Tyler Bertram led the team with 12, Amar’e Marshall and Jonathan Beagle scored 11, as Beagle led the team in rebounds with nine, while Sebastian Thomas scored 10.
“I think if we’re going to be really good, we have to be OK with different guys stepping up on different nights,” Killings said.
54 of the Great Danes’ points came from off the bench. Freshmen Zane Adnan and Jack Margoupis respectively scored eight in eight minutes and nine in nine minutes. Jackson was especially happy watching Margoupis’ performance, calling him a “glue guy” for the team’s culture. “All the freshmen, just being able to see them out there is awesome,” Jackson said.
The night’s one moment for concern came when Ny’Mire Little sank a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half but rolled his ankle coming down after the shot. Little sat on the bench wearing a boot across the second half, which Killings described as more so a cautionary measure than an emergency one. “I didn’t think it would be smart to put him out there in the second half,” he said.
Playing Temple at Barclays Center on Sunday, the Great Danes are riding a five-game win streak which is their longest since starting the 2017-18 season 6-0.
I think when you look at what's going on with athletics, our program, the women's [basketball] program, football, what they're all doing, it's a huge time for us to all make statements and we're going to try to make ours on Sunday,” Killings said.