(HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)
Carson Puriefor (No. 10) helped lead SBU to a 57-56 victory over Columbia in the Seawolves’ first game at Island FCU Arena. The junior finished with 14 points in the contest. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

It was far from pretty and nearly went the other way multiple times in the final 60 seconds, but Stony Brook escaped with a 57-56 win over Columbia in its season-opener and debut game at Island FCU Arena thanks to a game-winning bucket by junior Rayshaun McGrew.

“Togetherness, toughness. We had a rocky start to start off the game to a good team,” junior Jameel Warney said following the victory. “We just stayed together, kept competing and won the game.”

With 4,009 raucous fans, sports radio personality Craig Carton and America East conference commissioner Amy Huchthausen in attendance, the stage was set for the Seawolves to deliver a win to spark the dawn of a new era. Easier said than done, however.

The Seawolves struggled mightily out of the gate, missing five of their first six shots and 10 of their first 13 from the field.

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It took six minutes for Warney, who finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds on 6-15 shooting, to find the bottom of the net after an early sub out of the game.

“There’s not going to be many days for me like this,” Warney said of his tough shooting night. “But at least we got the win.”

The Lions came out firing, knocking down four of their first five attempts from downtown, keeping consistent with their offensive identity which revolves around outside shooting. The Seawolves were beat off the dribble often and failed to help-the-helper, giving way to a flurry of weak side threes.

When Columbia was not swinging the ball around to find an open shot, it was junior Maodo Lo dicing up the Stony Brook defense, scoring eight of Columbia’s first 10 points and finishing with 12 points on eight shots in the first half.

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“[Lo’s] really good. We tried to put more size on him, then we went down the stretch with quickness on him. We tried to mix it up so he never got comfortable with who was guarding him,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “That’s what our game-plan was.”

Stony Brook quickly found itself in a hole, falling behind by as much as 16 at one point in the first half.

Pikiell continually swapped around his lineups in the first half in an effort to “get everybody a taste early to see who was ready.”

In just the first seven minutes, 10 different Seawolves saw playing time. It was Warney who helped lead the team through the poor start, huddling the squad together during dead balls on multiple occasions.

“It’s all about togetherness this year,” Warney said. “I am one of the leaders, as me, Tre and Ray are. We have to keep the team together because we’re so young. All the huddles in between plays can help us.”

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The defense eventually settled in and the offense picked up as halftime neared, igniting a 13-3 run to close the half down just six.

Six of the 13 points were contributed by McGrew, who finished with 14 points and eight boards on 4-8 shooting.

Halftime was the turning point for the Seawolves, as they scored at a putrid 75.8 points per 100 possessions rate in the opening 20 minutes compared to 110.3 in the latter half.

“I thought early on we were getting good looks we weren’t finishing plays,” Pikiell said. “I wasn’t as worried on the offensive end as I was one the defensive end.”

Stony Brook started attacking the paint with more aggressiveness in the second half, but could not retake the lead because of a multitude of timely buckets by the Lions.

With 6:30 remaining in the contest and the Seawolves down seven, Pikiell turned to the lineup that would play out the rest of the night.

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Starters Warney, McGrew and Carson Puriefoy were joined by freshmen Deshaun Thrower
and Bryan Sekunda.

The rookies replaced starters Kameron Mitchell and Roland L’Amour Nyama, who both had paltry outings.

Mitchell lost his man off the ball a handful of times and totaled two turnovers, while Nyama was a team-worst -7 and was far too overzealous.

“It’s [Nyama’s] first day with the lights, I don’t worry. He’ll be more than good,” Pikiell said. “He’ll figure it out, he’ll get better.”

As the game wound down, it was Puriefoy who kept the Seawolves in it with nine points in the second half, finishing with 14 and five dimes on 6-15 shooting on the evening.

Puriefoy excelled on a curl play coming off two screens towards the middle of the floor down the stretch, scoring in the paint numerous times from the set.

With 1:23 to play, Stony Brook trailed by five and had the ball in its possession.

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Out of a timeout, the Seawolves ran a masterful play to pull the game within reach. Puriefoy gestured towards taking a handoff towards the middle of the floor as he did throughout the contest, but instead took the ball and proceeded to drive baseline.

On the weak side was Sekunda, who, coming off a screen setting him up for a wide-open corner,  took the pass from Puriefoy and buried his second three of the contest.

“Bryan teed it up and he’s a shooter,” Pikiell said. “You don’t know till you get guys in live action and he didn’t hesitate.”

With the crowd in hysteria, Lo clanked a jumper over the defending McGrew, giving Puriefoy an opportunity in transition.

Puriefoy found McGrew, who was fouled on a layup attempt.

With 13 seconds on the clock, McGrew made the first, but missed the second.

Warney was fouled trying to collect the offensive rebound and was sent to the line for two, with SBU trailing by a single point.

Warney missed both, grabbing his own rebound on the second but his put-back try was strong. McGrew cleaned up the glass, scoring the game-winning layup with seven seconds to play.

“You never know what to expect so you obviously got to be ready,” McGrew said of the final play. “Honestly I feel like it came to me, so I took advantage of it.”

Lo put up an airball at the buzzer, sending the Island FCU Arena crowd into a frenzy and onto the court while the Seawolves themselves were in jubilant celebration.

The Seawolves look to improve to 2-0 as they head south to play Georgia on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

“Thank god we got the win,” Warney said. “Because it was going to be rough loss to swallow.”

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