Setting the Scene: I was asked at the game by Albany JV coach Mark Bobb-Semple (someone I really respect in this area) how I choose what games to go to. I didn’t really give him an answer because I got sidetracked – something I’m pretty bad with – but although that usually depends on several factors, some days are easy. ‘Oh, it’s Albany/Shen night? Count me in.’ This was set for mid-December before weather had other ideas, but the six-week delay didn’t impact my thoughts on getting here. For the first time since last March’s Section II Class AA championship game, Tuesday night was that aforementioned Albany/Shen night. The Falcons were one of the section’s last unbeatens before Bethlehem got them two weeks ago. Shen came in with a comparable record and their only area loss coming in early January to Averill Park. Simply put, I’m not doing my job if I’m not here.
Albany 63, Shenendehowa 54
75 Words or Less: There’s playing from behind, then there’s playing from behind against Albany. The Falcons, who played the role of comeback artists on a handful of occasions earlier this season, used solid play with a couple particularly strong stretches to gain an early lead. The Shen push was coming eventually and it happened in the 4th, but Albany weathered the storm & pulled back away in the closing minutes. We’d be lucky to get a Round 2.
THE FULL STORY
The opening possession of the game ended with exactly what a Shen opponent would never want – a Kaleigh Montanez (Shen 2023) three. As expected, that three rang true. Brianna Carey (Shen 2023) got an open one & nailed it not long after, and Shen was off & running – at least momentarily. The Plainsmen led 9-4 after a Carey free throw at the 5:31 mark, but as quickly as the flurry happened, it stopped. Albany pressure & athleticism started to take hold as the early open looks started turning into Shen turnovers, and the Falcons took advantage. Iyana Weeden (Albany 2024) knocked down a three at the midway point of the opening frame, and by the time Mia Corazzini (Albany 2025) turned a steal into a breakaway layup in the waning seconds of the quarter, Albany had an 11-0 run on their hands and led 15-9.
Albany’s run ended up capping at 13-0 after an Azera Gates (Albany 2025) bucket to start the second stanza. Miranda DeMura (Shen 2023) stopped the bleeding with a make that broke a drought of approximately 6:30, and she added two more baskets to bring Shen back within four at 19-15. The hosts eventually trimmed the deficit to one possession as threes that had been drawing iron for much of the half started connecting. Montanez hit her second of the night, Cameryn Wilders (Shen 2023) got in on the action with a top of the key trey, and Carey cut it to 27-25 with her second to match Kaleigh. Similar to the first quarter though, it was Albany that finished strong. Nevaeh House (Albany 2023) answered Carey’s three with one of her own and Shonyae Edmonds (Albany 2023) added two buckets in a 7-1 spurt to end the half and send the Falcons into intermission up 34-26.
The third felt like a general stalemate – Albany showed no signs of being able to pull away, Shen wasn’t able to make any serious dent into the manageable deficit. Another Carey triple drew Shen back within five at 40-35 as it started approaching the part of the game where every possession mattered a little more, but Albany quickly cut out the thought of a spurt – at least then – as Edmonds scored on the Falcons’ ensuing possession and Weeden buried a right wing three to give Albany their first double digit lead. That 45-35 edge was one they held going into the 4th and proved to be their largest lead of the night.
The ‘Shen spurt’ hadn’t really happened yet, and it felt like it was on the horizon. They got it in the final frame and made things more interesting in a hurry. Abby Stuart (Shen 2024), who hadn’t scored in the first three quarters, showed the microwave qualities to help lead the push. She hit her first three to make it 45-40. Just over 90 seconds later, she got free and buried another one to get to 47-43. Taliyha Braxton (Albany 2023) answered with a bucket, but Montanez traded her two for a three of her own. Shen got as close as 2 after Carey split a pair at the line to cut the deficit to 49-47 with 4:14 left. They would get no closer though as Albany showed composure in the moment & took advantage of a couple Shen defensive miscues to stem the tide. First, it was Gates turning the corner & finding no one home on the way to an uncontested layup. After getting a stop, Weeden was able to break loose off the bounce & touch the paint, where she hit a cutting Jordan Johnson (Albany 2024) for a layup. Shen’s ensuing possession never materialized as Weeden got a steal in the backcourt and turned it into a converted three-point play. Within 39 seconds of play, Albany extended their lead back to 9. The Plainsmen had one last gasp with the three ball, as Stuart & Carey knocked down consecutive treys to make it 56-53 with just over two minutes left, but Braxton – whose minutes were limited before the 4th quarter stretch – knocked down a big left corner three to put Albany in winning position. She added two free throws with :50.5 remaining to effectively ice it as Shen was unable to make another field goal in the closing moments.
Iyana Weeden led the way in the books with 17 points for Albany. 12 of them came after halftime, including 5 big ones late in the 4th quarter to keep a charging Shen team at bay. There was great balance behind her as pretty much everyone in the Falcon rotation gave them positive minutes. Shonyae Edmonds had 9, three others (Azera Gates, Nevaeh House, Jordan Johnson) all had 8 points apiece, and Taliyha Braxton gave them 7 big 4th quarter points. Bri Carey pumped in a game high 18 to lead Shen and Kaleigh Montanez joined her in double figures with 12. They combined to hit 8 of Shen’s 12 threes on the night, with each of them knocking down 4.
Next Up: The road tour continues for Albany, as this was the second of a six-game swing of away games. They finish the week at Schenectady on Friday. I have my eyes on their regular season finale February 10 against Colonie, which also happens to be their next home game. Shen wraps up the week with a back-to-back for the third straight week. They’ll head over to Troy on Friday night and have a quick turnaround Saturday afternoon as they host Vermont power Champlain Valley Union.
- I’ve watched Albany win games against some quality opponents this year (Averill Park, Liverpool, Wallkill all come to mind). Keeping in mind that I look at process just as heavily as result (and often even more), this showing was the most impressive & complete one I’ve seen this year. They turned Shen over plenty, but they weren’t able to quite create the chaos that they have with other opponents, especially in the 2nd half. They had to dig in and get the half-court stops – as I call them, the ‘playoff stops’. They had to weather the storm when Shen eventually got it going (you knew it was coming at some point), and that’s easier said than done because Shen make the scoreboard move in 3s. They had to stay connected at both ends in late game situations and finish controlled possessions with points. All those things ‘they had’ to do, they did. Tuesday looked like an Albany team that’s showing some growth.
- I thought Shen generally played pretty well in the 2nd half and finally shot the three in rhythm in the 4th quarter, obviously a key to their offensive production. There’s value in seeing that success, especially knowing that there’s high potential for another matchup come playoff time. It just got to a point where Shen had to play perfect late – or really close to it – to complete a comeback like this against a team of Albany’s caliber. Almost got there and perhaps the energy exerted to make that push played a part in this, but a few lapses (primarily on the defensive end) killed the run & did them in as Albany is good enough to make teams pay consistently if that happens. This is one that you look at if you’re Shen and hope for a better first half – limit empty possessions by way of turnovers, limit transition runouts which Albany got several of before halftime – so you’re not having to dig back from 3-4 possessions behind.
- In case I haven’t mentioned Azera Gates enough in the past… love her game and what she brings to the table. The Albany 2025 lead guard has been a varsity presence since 7th grade and has been advanced since before that – still remember her fitting in at my *first* Middle School Combine as a 5th grader among good 7th/8th graders (and some of those 8th graders are playing D1 ball now). She’s a competitive player that seems to have a voice among them but also brings a calming presence on the court. Albany can ‘play’ in the half-court without her because they have a couple kids that can create their own shot and others that can go get it off the rim. They can excel in the half-court when needed because of AZ. Strong, physical, explosive downhill with a quick burst, makes the right read much more often than not once she hits the paint. 8 points here but impact expanded well beyond that. Coach Nusseibeh at Canisius was recently the first to buy in by extending a Division I offer – I think a few others in that MAAC/America East/NEC sort of scope will enter the chat before long.
- Conventional wisdom would assume that I had limited thoughts about my Monday trip to Hammond/Copenhagen and a flowing river of takeaways from this game… but nope. Quite the opposite. I couldn’t stop adding bullets there, and I don’t really have too much to say about here. Just a competitive game with a level of fluidity that was a pleasant surprise. Everything about this game and its environment was good. If we get it again – which would either be Section II Class AA finals or semis depending on how seeding shakes out – I’ll be happy.