The Seawolves are headed home, but for all the right reasons. SBU squeezed by the Hartford Hawks 69-64, earning a spot to compete for the America East Championship—and their first NCAA tournament bid—against Albany at Stony Brook.
“It was a very hard fought game and I tip my hat to Hartford,” said head coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “They are a tough team to play, they space you out.”
The Seawolves’ bigs were challenged defensively for all 40 minutes—either having to guard a much smaller and quicker player or stick All-Conference First Team member Mark Nwakamma. Hartford’s small lineups spread the court for threes to be jacked to no end, a total of 28 attempted and 10 made on the night.
However, Stony Brook found a haven in Rayshaun McGrew. Although he played just 12 minutes, McGrew’s large stature and guard-like quickness gave the Seawolves their ace in the hole, a player that could both run the high-low offense and chase 3-point shooters on defense.
“Ray McGrew has really come on,” said Pikiell. “He can guard there guys on the perimeter so that’s why he played more minutes today.”
The highlight of McGrew’s night was coming in to negate a drive by Hartford’s Corban Wroe—who had already made three jumpers from deep in the first few minutes of action—and then follow up with a menacing growl in Wroe’s grill.
McGrew was not the only key cog off the pine. Anthony Jackson immediately drained two threes upon his entry into the game with the Seawolves falling behind to Hartford. A.J. finished with 14 points on 5-9 shooting from the field.
In a 10-minute span between the 15- and five-minute mark in the opening half, the Seawolves went on a 20-7 tear, led by Carson Puriefoy’s inspiring play.
In his 39 minutes of action Puriefoy never let up, attacking the Hawks defense with no regard for his health. The distinct thud of Puriefoy’s body smacking the hardwood after a strong drive (usually through or into multiple defenders) was as prevalent a sound as the squeaking of sneakers. Puriefoy finished with 21 huge points, taking 10 of Stony Brook’s 12 free throws in the game.
The Seawolves’ physicality was seemingly too much for Hartford until the Hawks went with a 1-3-1 zone on defense to turn a 5-point Stony Brook lead to 4-point lead of their own as the first half neared its conclusion.
However, the Seawolves responded with a last-minute run of their own—capped by a monster block by Eric McAlister, his second of the night—to go up two at the halftime break. When the second half began, the Seawolves took charge.
Stony Brook opened up on a magnificent 15-2 run, which included a ferocious fast break alley-oop slam by Ahmad Walker that catapulted the Seawolves bench out of their seats. SBU’s offense flung the ball from side to side, sending Hartford’s zone scrambling. Their defense did not allow the Hawks’ many shooters to breathe—let alone make a shot—and forced turnovers that led to easy fast break finishes.
To no surprise, the Hawks would respond, but to no avail. A couple of mini 5-0 runs were each answered by the Seawolves, who needed to stay ahead for six more minutes to come away victorious.
Hartford had other plans. The Hawks stormed back, cutting Stony Brook’s lead to a measly three points with just more than three minutes remaining.
A big offensive rebound and drawn foul by the 6-foot Puriefoy pushed the Seawolves ahead by four, when Jameel Warney stepped up.
The America East Player of the Year was silent for most of the night, scoring eight of his 10 points in the latter half and taking only seven shots all night. However it was Warney’s defense that came through for Stony Brook, when Warney shut down Nwakamma on three separate attempts in the final stretch of the contest.
“The game’s on the line and this is what [Warney] does,” Jackson said.
The final stop with about a minute to play transitioned into a made runner by Dave Coley, giving the Seawolves a 6-point advantage. Wroe then connected on his seventh 3-pointer of the night with just more than 40 ticks to play.
Once again it was Puriefoy coming through for Stony Brook. With the shot clock down to 10 seconds, Puriefoy dribbled east to west, crowded by several Hartford defenders, and somehow slithered his way to the cup for the layup as the 35-second clock expired. Two-possession game with under 10 seconds to play, or game over.
The Seawolves now focus their attention on topping Albany and achieving the ever-elusive America East title.
Pikiell has taken notice of the task at hand: “Every time we play Albany it’s a war…It always is when we play and I expect it to be.”