Peter Hooley

Albany’s Peter Hooley accepts Inspiration Award

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Last week, Albany senior Peter Hooley accepted the Inspiration Award at the Coaches vs Cancer Basket Ball in Troy, New York. The Albany athletic department uploaded his entire speech on Monday afternoon.

Hooley had one of the most uplifting moments of March after months and months of heartache.

The junior guard missed three weeks of the season to travel back home to Australia to be with his mother, who was battling colon cancer. She passed away in January. Hooley returned to the team in February and the following month, the Great Danes had a shot at an NCAA tournament berth. In the America East Tournament championship, Hooley sunk a game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds to go.

Hooley, who graduated in May, was selected to give the commencement speech.

Albany’s Peter Hooley to give commencement speech at school’s graduation in May

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One of the most powerful stories of the 2014-15 season was that of Albany guard Peter Hooley, whose shot with less than a second remaining gave the Great Danes a win over Stony Brook in the America East title game. Hooley’s heroics came less than two months after the passing of his mother from a lengthy bout with colon cancer, and just over a month after he’d returned to the program.

Hooley’s story serves as inspiration for many, and as a result the school has selected him to give the undergraduate commencement speech at graduation next month.

“It’s an honor for me to speak on behalf of our graduating class,” Hooley said in the release. “I’m looking forward to congratulating everyone on our last four years together, as well as wishing the Class of 2015 the best going forward.”

This is the latest honor bestowed upon Hooley, who also received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in March and the school president’s Outstanding Senior Award. While a number of schools bring in public figures for commencement speeches, Albany’s move has the potential to be even more meaningful as the graduates will see one of their own at the podium.

Albany blows 19-point first half lead, defeats Mount St. Mary’s in First Four to play No. 1 Florida

DJ Evans
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In the early goings, it appeared No. 16 seed Albany would roll past fellow No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four matchup. The Great Danes opened up the first eight-plus minutes with a 21-2 lead.

Mount St. Mary’s would quickly rally, pushing the tempo and draining 3-pointers to not only tie, but take the lead.

The Mountaineers would make it a game in the first half, but it would be Albany, the American East Tournament champion, that would advance to the Round of 64 with a 71-64 win in the first game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

The Great Danes get top overall seed Florida on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. in the South Region.

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Albany led 67-64 with 39 seconds remaining. Rashad Whack, the Mountaineers leading scorer, had a good look at a 3-pointer, which went halfway down, before rolling off the rim. A missed free throw would open the door for another game-tying three, but for the Mountaineers, it would not be their night from beyond the arc.

D.J. Evans went for a game-high 22 points and at 5-foot-9 guard grabbed nine rebounds. Peter Hooley, the leading scorer, added 20 points.

Both sides had talented guards. For Mount St. Mary’s, it was the high-scoring tandem of Whack and Julian Norfleet, though, the duo shot a combined 7-0f-31 (3-of-19 from three) for 23 points. Will Miller would come off the bench to hit all seven of his field goals from beyond the arc for a team-high 21 points.

Take away Miller’s night from three and Mount St. Mary’s was 5-of-25 from deep.

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Mount St. Mary’s wanted to push the tempo and launch 3-pointers, which it did, but it seemed Evans was comfortable in that style. Guard play is important in the NCAA tournament, and the undersized point guard came up big Tuesday night. He thrived in the open floor, and was able to take Mountaineer defenders off the dribble.

A No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed before. To make matters worse for Albany, which committed 14 turnovers on Tuesday night, it will go up against a Florida team that is top-15 nationally in defensive turnover percentage.

This was Albany’s first NCAA tournament victory.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Albany Great Danes

Albany Great Danes head coach Will Brown shouts instructions to his team while playing against the Duke Blue Devils during the first half of their second round NCAA tournament game in Philadelphia
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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: America East Conference

Coach: Will Brown

Record: 17-14 (9-7 America East)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 195
– RPI: 199
– AP/USA Today: None

Seeding?: 16

Names you need to know: Peter Hooley (15.7 ppg, 40 percent from three); Sam Rowley (11.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg); DJ Evans (11 ppg, 2.8 apg); John Puk (5.7 percent block rate)

Stats you need to know: Albany flew under the America East radar this season thanks to seven conference losses (though only two of those losses were by double-digits). Brown’s squad isn’t an offensive juggernaut — 1.03 points per AE possession — and the Danes’ goal is to consistently attack the bucket. Nearly 50 percent of their shots are at the rim, with many of those attempts taken by Rowley and Gary Johnson, a 6-foot-6 senior who leads the squad in two-point field goal percentage (53.1 percent). Similar to the Albany team that danced last season, a stout defensive effort is demanded by Brown each time the SUNY school takes the floor. The Danes’ defensive efficiency rating is second in AE play, and their constant switching between man, 2-3, and 3-2 defenses kept Stony Brook off-balance during Albany’s AE final win.

Tendencies: The offense flows through Hooley and Rowley, two of Albany’s several Australians on the roster. The duo leads the team in percentage of shots attempted, and while Rowley prefers to work within the paint, using his heft to bully opposing defenders, Hooley’s game is a bit more diverse — the sophomore made 40 percent of his threes. But because the Danes aren’t going to offensively overrun teams, Albany needs to control the game’s pace, using a glacial strategy that involves going deep into the shot clock before unleashing their attempt — Albany uses just 63 possessions per game, 317th slowest nationally — and since their defense is so stingy and yields few offensive rebounds, additional possessions, and easy buckets, fail to materialize for Albany opponents.

Big wins, bad losses: Save for a late January win at home against Stony Brook, Albany did not have any big wins until the league tournament tipped. Perhaps a close lose to Pitt could be counted as a moral victory, but dropped games to UMass-Lowell and Duquesne weren’t great. The Danes didn’t begin to roll until the AE tournament semis, beating top seeded Vermont, a win which catapulted Albany to their match-up, and eventual victory, over Stony Brook.

How’d they get here?: Handcuffing Stony Brook (.89 PPP) in the America East final, winning 69-60.

Outlook: The America East representative has won just two tournament games within the past decade, and both wins were secured by Vermont (2012, over Lamar; 2005, over Syracuse), so while Albany lost only two players from s squad that won the league’s auto bid last season, it is hard to see Albany advancing past their first contest. However, the combination of NCAA tourney experience, a slow pace, and continuously switching defenses might confuse their opening round opponent.

How do I know you?: Brown has been Albany’s head coach for much of the 21st century, taking the bench’s first seat for the 2001-02 season. He’s led the Danes to four NCAA tournament appearances — 2006, ’07, ’13, and now ’14 — and is regarded as one of the nation’s most underrated coaches.