When the final buzzer sounded, senior forward Jameel Warney broke into a smile so wide it could undo the anguish that came with two consecutive championship game losses. He refused to end his senior year on the same note, breaking his own program record with 43 points in Stony Brook’s 80-74 win over Vermont in the America East Championship, sending the Seawolves to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
“We always feel like we can win a game, even [if] we’re down 100,” Warney, who shot 18-for-22, said. “It wasn’t anything new to us. We just knew we had to stick together, just get stops one play at a time. No hero ball. Just keep playing the way we always play and it was going to come to us.”
Stony Brook trailed by 15 with 15:17 to go when Warney and senior guard Carson Puriefoy took it upon themselves to lead their squad. Puriefoy scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half, combining with Warney to net 66 of the Seawolves’ 80 points in the win. A 15-2 run behind a stingy Catamounts defense allowed the Seawolves seniors to cut the Vermont lead to just one with 7:48 remaining. Over the stretch, Vermont shot just 1-for-6 with a pair of turnovers, as Stony Brook cut the lead to one.
“I was being aggressive from the start,” Warney said with the cut-down net hanging around his neck. “Before the game coach said I had to get 20 shots up, which is, I didn’t know if I could do that, but I did it today.”
With Stony Brook ahead by one, junior guard Ahmad Walker missed a layup over a pair of Vermont defenders, but Warney was there to grab the offensive rebound and score with 1:15 to play.
After both teams traded scores, Warney scored off an offensive rebound once again, raising his arms as he backpedaled down the court with the Island Federal Credit Union Arena crowd erupting around him. The game was all but won, and Warney knew it when he dropped to his knees and pounded the hardwood.
“To see a missed shot, it’s like another pass to me,” Warney said. “Once the shot went in I knew, we were one stop away from making history. Luckily we got that stop.”
Puriefoy–who missed a crucial free throw in last year’s championship game loss at Albany–shot 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half. Vermont made just five of its final 18 field goal attempts to close the contest.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Puriefoy said. “Me and Jameel were talking before the game and we’re like, ‘You know, this is our last chance. We have to lead these guys.’ I think we did a good job of doing that today.”
Sophomore guard Trae Bell-Haynes scored 16 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Catamounts. Six players added eight or more points for Vermont in a balanced scoring effort.
Stony Brook trailed by nine at the half, a deficit that could have been much larger if not for Warney. He shot 7-for-9 from the field while the rest of his team went 3-for-19. Eight players scored for the Catamounts in the first half compared to three for the Seawolves. As a team, Stony Brook shot just 5-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Warney’s efforts put the Catamounts in early foul trouble, which plagued them for the rest of the afternoon. Sophomore forward Drew Urquhart picked up four fouls, junior forward Kurt Steidl committed three and senior forward Ethan O’Day tallied two trying to contain Warney. Both Urquhart and O’Day fouled out of the game in the second half.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams leading but neither going up double-digits. Vermont closed the half on a 10-2 run, setting the stage to go up 15 after the break. But Stony Brook pulled through, and is now on its way to dance in the NCAA Tournament.
“I didn’t care how we won the game,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “I just wanted to win by one point.”
The Seawolves’ next game will be a first round match-up on Thursday or Friday, with Stony Brook’s opponent to be determined by the NCAA selection committee Sunday night.
“We’ll worry about that then,” Pikiell said, “but it’s been an unbelievable journey to get here and I’m just really excited.”