Kameron Mitchell at Washington. Scott King at Albany. Stony Brook has relied on unlikely heroes in its biggest wins of the season, and such was the case against Vermont in the America East semifinals. Freshman Deshaun Thrower scored 18 points, 16 in the second half, including the dagger with 25 seconds to go to propel the Seawolves into the America East Championship game in a 79-77 win over the Catamounts.
The Seawolves made the same mistakes that hurt them against Vermont twice during the regular season in the first half of this game. The Catamounts opened up on a 10-0 run with a couple of pick-and-pops that resulted in wide-open jumpers.
Shooting for Stony Brook early was junior Rayshaun McGrew, who took home all-conference third team honors. He took SBU’s first six shots, but connected on just one of them despite getting good looks.
To help spark a Seawolves offense stifled by Vermont’s high-pressure man defense, Head Coach Steve Pikiell quickly subbed King in to replace Roland Nyama. Soon after, Pikiell brought in Nyama to play alongside King for one of the first times this season. These changes did not make a world of difference, as Stony Brook would use three timeouts in just over seven minutes of action.
Jameel Warney eventually got it going with a seven-point spurt, but Vermont still held a solid lead behind back-to-back threes from Cam Ward. To no surprise, long-range shooting was a trend for Vermont throughout the half, heading into the break shooting 8-of-12 from deep. While some were contested makes, many were the result of overhelping by the Seawolves.
By the 11:37 mark, six Catamounts had scored while Stony Brook scrambled to maintain pace on the other end. Junior Carson Puriefoy played a dreadful half, going 0-of-4 from the field and picking up three fouls. Stony Brook’s best looks came on offensive boards, the one area the Seawolves excelled in through the first 20 minutes.
The Seawolves went into halftime with nine offensive boards to Vermont’s three and 19 total rebounds to Vermont’s 15. Everything else was a struggle for Stony Brook, however. The Seawolves connected on only one three in the first half. Only two players, Warney and McGrew, scored five or more points and even they could not take advantage of Ethan O’Day resting on the bench to close the half.
O’Day killed Stony Brook in the two meetings between the schools this season, but when he sat out most of the final eight minutes of the half, Hector Harold picked up the slack with a seemingly effortless 13-point half. His spark helped give Vermont a 41-29 advantage heading into halftime, with the Seawolves shooting just 33.3 percent from the field.
Then, the tables turned. Stony Brook came out of the break a new team: energized, crisp and determined. The Seawolves went on a ridiculous 28-6 run to start the half, fueled by improved play in every facet.
Puriefoy broke out his stupor, cashing in on a quick five points to light the fuse. With his confidence brimming, Puriefoy began shooting, and making, with vigor. Puriefoy scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, shooting 4-of-6 from the field.
A solid first half was not enough for Warney, who began dominating. Almost every rebound seemed to fall in his hands, and he was able to muscle his way into post position for a 13-point period. He finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds on the afternoon.
Then there was Thrower, who played 19 minutes in the second half thanks to his pesky defense, 3-of-3 shooting from deep and aggressive play on the fast break. The freshman pushed the tempo and attacked the paint relentlessly.
The Catamounts regressed from downtown, shooting just 2-of-8 from three in the second period despite getting relatively the same looks. SBU’s momentum rattled Vermont, but did not completely take the Catamounts out of the game.
With the Seawolves taking their largest lead of the night at 11 points with just over nine minutes left to play, Vermont fought back. The teams began trading buckets until Stony Brook’s offense began to dial back and its defense being hampered by foul trouble for Puriefoy and McGrew. Down three at the 3:08 mark, Kurt Steidl knocked down a three, with Mitchell closing out to tie the game.
Warney gave Stony Brook control with a right hook shot. Following a Puriefoy steal, McGrew tipped in a Warney miss to give SBU a four-point lead. Vermont’s Dre Wills finished a reverse lay-up to make it a two-point game with 56 seconds remaining. With time winding down and the play broken, it was Thrower who bailed out the Seawolves on a fading mid-range jumper to extend their lead back to four and secure them the victory.
Stony Brook will now head up to Albany on Saturday to take on the Great Danes, with a chance at finally reaching the NCAA Tournament.