Albany Great Danes

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener


No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

No. 7 Villanova (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Albany (2-1, 0-0 CAA)
Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, Albany, New York
Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s time for conference play as Villanova kicks off its CAA slate this weekend. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats asserted their FCS dominance last week with a 59-0 thrashing of overmatched Lafayette. That came two weeks after a win over another Patriot League team in Lehigh, which preceded an impressive showing in a loss to FBS Temple. All of which is to say that the Wildcats head into conference play as good as advertised as one of the juggernauts in the CAA, led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (who completed 13 of 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns last week), a balanced rushing attack (also last week: seven different ball carriers combined to run for 262 yards and three TDs), and a defense that slowed down Temple and had two TDs vs. Lafayette (and was among the nation’s best last season).

Scouting Albany
After losing to Old Dominion in their opener, the Great Danes have won two straight, shutting out Morgan State, 26-0, and doubling up Monmouth, 28-14. In last week’s win over Monmouth, redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Brunson threw for one touchdown and ran for another while the Albany defense, led by redshirt senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky (15 tackles), held one of FCS’s top rushing teams to just 63 yards on the ground. Picked to finish sixth in the CAA in the preseason, Albany also features an all-league running back in junior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who scored a TD in his season debut last week after sitting out the first two games with an injury.

Villanova leads the all-time series, 3-0, having defeated the Great Danes in each of the past three seasons.

Storyline to watch
Albany’s defense is off to a solid start, ranking second in the CAA in both total defense and passing defense. Bednarczyk and company had a field day with Lehigh and Lafayette but it will be interesting to see how they manage the game, and balance the run vs. pass, against a more proficient defensive unit.

What’s at stake?
Winning on the road is never easy but if it wants to win the CAA, Villanova is going to have to stay unblemished until facing league powerhouse and defending national champion James Madison in mid-October.

The Wildcats will immediately show why they’re one of the CAA’s best teams.

Villanova 28, Albany 17

Penn State falls to Albany, 87-81, at home in opener

USA Today Images

Penn State falls to Albany, 87-81, at home in opener


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As soon as he joined his team for a shootaround earlier Friday, Albany coach Will Brown grew worried.

His players were wandering the Bryce Jordan Center hardwood with their phones out, cameras snapping and videos rolling as they took in the sights and sounds of Penn State's cavernous arena.

A few hours later, Brown's apprehension over whether his team was prepared to open the season against a Power 5 team had faded with its 87-81 win over the Nittany Lions.

"They call these games bye games or guarantee games or money games, the big boy is supposed to beat the little boy," Brown said. "We didn't come here just to play in a nice arena and get some money out of it and all that stuff. We were here to win.

They did so convincingly against the Nittany Lions who welcomed six new faces in the lineup and had one of its expected top-contributors out with an injury.

Joe Cremo scored 22 points, Dallas Ennema had 20 points and David Nichols added 19 to lead Albany.

Shep Garner made three free throws with 17 seconds left to pull Penn State to 82-79 but Cremo, Ennema and Marqueese Grayson combined to hit five free throws to ice the season opener for both teams.

The Great Danes dominated the first half, leading 41-25 at halftime. They fended off Penn State's late rally by controlling the glass and playing opportunistic offense.

Albany pulled down 43 rebounds to Penn State's 26 and scored 20 points off of fast breaks.

Garner scored 17 of Penn State's final 19 points and finished with 20. His team's unbalanced scoring pace wasn't what Penn State coach Patrick Chambers had in mind when he said Penn State would try to score 80 points per game, something they did just three times in regulation last season.

"We came all the way back but we can't wait to come all the way back in the second half," Chambers said. "We've got to understand that you have to play hard from the tip."

The Great Danes got contributions up and down the lineup all last season with Evan Singletary, Peter Hooley and Ray Sanders all averaging just over 12 points per game. Cremo also averaged double figures with 10.5 points per game last season and got plenty of help in the opener.

The long awaited debut of big man Mike Watkins was a promising one for Penn State. The power forward was ruled ineligible by the NCAA last season and was a physical force in his first game, providing Penn State's few highlights around the rim.

The Philadelphia native scored the game's opening basket on a nice turnaround jumper and chipped in three blocks and two rebounds in the opening three minutes. He finished with seven rebounds, five blocks and 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

A hamstring injury kept versatile forward Payton Banks out of Penn State's exhibition against Lock Haven a week ago and he was rusty off the bench, going 1-for-5 in just nine first-half minutes before heating up and finishing with 14 points.

Banks said he "felt 100 percent" before, during and after the game.

Albany: The Great Danes won nine of their last 12 games last season, but suffered back-to-back losses in the America East and CBI tournaments. They snapped that losing skid with a convincing win in which they led in nearly every statistical category.

Penn State: With six new faces in the lineup, it's going to take much longer for Patrick Chambers to find what pieces fit where. He'll continue to bring players off the bench to spread minutes around and mix veterans with newcomers to build chemistry. Guard Josh Reaves' absence due to a lower leg injury could make the first part of that tougher with fewer players on the bench.

Albany plays at Cincinnati on Monday.

Penn State hosts Duquesne on Sunday.

No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?


No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?

No. 16 Villanova (5-2, 3-1) vs. No. 23 Albany (4-2, 1-2)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pa.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Fresh off a rare loss, Villanova looks to get back on track during its homecoming game against another nationally ranked foe. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats saw their five-game winning streak snapped in resounding fashion as they were shut out for the first time since 2004 in a 23-0 loss to Richmond. Sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk left the game in the second quarter with an injury, a big reason why the Wildcats finished with just 222 yards of total offense. But despite the final score, Villanova’s defense played well again with Austin Calitro and Rob Rolle each hitting double digits in tackles. The unit is ranked fifth in the FCS in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and sixth in total defense (237.9 yards per game) and has scored four defensive touchdowns.

Scouting Albany
After winning their first four games, the Great Danes lost their next two, a 36-30 triple-overtime heartbreaker to Richmond followed by a 20-16 setback to Maine. Sophomore quarterback Neven Sussman led Albany with 187 passing yards and 75 rushing yards. But for the season, their offensive strength has been with sophomore running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who’s second in the CAA in rushing, averaging 105 yards per game. Albany’s defense is only behind Villanova in points allowed per game (19.3) in the CAA, but interestingly enough is last in total defense (420.2 yards per game). The Great Danes lead the league in turnover margin (plus-15), led by linebacker Michael Nicastro and safety Mason Gray with three interceptions apiece.

Series history
Villanova has only played Albany twice, beating the Great Danes, 48-31, in 2014 and steamrolling it, 37-0, last season. 

Storyline to watch
The big question going in is whether Bednarczyk will play with Villanova saying it will be a game-time decision after the QB suffered a concussion last week. If he can’t go, Adeyemi DaSilva will get the start in his place after replacing him in the second quarter vs. Richmond. DaSilva is a promising player but Bednarczyk was coming into his own this season and his absence would naturally be a difficult one. Of course, the Wildcats have been through this before with Bednarczyk taking over as the starter last season when star John Robertson went down with an injury of his own.

What’s at stake?
Villanova still has a chance to win the CAA but probably can’t afford a second loss in the league. And of course, there’s nothing better than winning in front of a homecoming crowd.

A lot depends on whether Bednarczyk can play … but even if he doesn’t, the Wildcats’ dominant defense may be enough to get the job done. 

Villanova 20, Albany 17