For the second straight season, the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team had their NCAA tournament dreams crushed by Albany. The Great Danes came into a hostile Pritchard Gymnasium on Saturday and exited with their second consecutive America East title.
The image of Albany’s Peter Hooley draining a three from the top of the key while Carson Puriefoy lay helplessly on the ground will likely give Seawolves’ fans’ nightmares for years to come. And the disappointment of falling short once again in the big game makes another impressive regular season put together by the program seem like an afterthought.
The Seawolves had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game. The biggest chance came with just over seven minutes left in the second half.
Stony Brook held a six point advantage and Albany’s Sam Rowley committed his fifth foul, sending him to the bench for the rest of the day. Rowley had been the Great Danes biggest offensive weapon for most of the game, shooting 9-of-11 from the field.
But the Seawolves were not able to build on their lead and instead allowed their opponent to go on a 12-2 run, and take a 58-54 lead with 1:43 remaining. Then with 1:04 left the final dagger came when Hooley converted a three to give his team a five point advantage.
Hooley had struggled for most of the game, finishing the day shooting just 4-of-15 from the field. He also took a hard shot to the face after running into SBU’s Eric McAlister less than two minutes earlier. But, when it came time to make a big shot, the 6’4 Australian guard came through for his team.
Albany’s best players all showed up for the title game in a big way. Rowley finished with a game-high 18 points, guard DJ Evans had 16 points and Gary Johnson grabbed a game-high ten boards.
The same could not be said for Stony Brook’s best players. The backcourt trio of Puriefoy and seniors Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson all struggled in the Seawolves’ biggest game of the year.
With America East conference player of the year Jameel Warney drawing lots of defensive pressure down low for most of the contest, Stony Brook was forced to get their offense from the outside.
Coley and Jackson were not able to get the job done from the exterior, as they combined to shoot 6-of-22 from the field, and 0-for-7 from three-point range.
Coley was able to contribute in other areas of the game, playing stingy defense and pulling down eight rebounds. However, he only shot 1-of-5 in the game’s final five minutes, when the team was desperate for points.
Jackson struggled in almost all assets of his game. He finished with no assists, three turnovers and fought through foul trouble through most of the afternoon.
After having a career day in the semifinals against Hartford, in which he led the team with 21 points, Puriefoy was nearly invisible in the first half versus Albany. The sophomore was more of a factor in the second half, but seemed to have trouble controlling his dribble.
As result he was unable to attack the basket in the same deadly effective manner he did against the Hawks. This made life much easier for head coach Will Brown’s club.
“I was having Puriefoy nightmares last night,” Brown said after the game. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to stop him in transition, and keep him away from the rim.”
But the Great Danes were able to slow down the speedy guard and will now have the chance to play in their fourth NCAA tournament next week, while Stony Brook is once again left to hope for a spot in the NIT.
Coach Steve Pikiell has done a terrific job with the SBU basketball program, taking them from an irrelevant club to a team that contends for a conference title every year. But, despite all the regular season accolades Pikiell’s team earns, he will still have to deal with the same old questions until his squad finally wins an America East title.
“It’s hard to get to this game, and it’s hard to win it,” Pikiell said after the loss. “We didn’t make the plays when we need to, and therefore where not cutting the nets down.”
Despite another heartbreaking loss, Pikiell sounded far from a defeated man.
“We’ll keep swinging punches, and getting back to this game,” Pikiell said. “One of these days we’re gonna have one of those great games at the right time, and that group will be the ones who get us there.”