For the second straight year, Stony Brook men’s basketball finds itself one game away from its first NCAA Tournament berth. And for the second straight year, Albany stands in SBU’s way. This time around, the Seawolves find themselves the underdog as the No. 3 seed, but that has not translated to a lack of confidence.
“This is the game that matters,” Head Coach Steve Pikiell said during media availability on Tuesday. “We hadn’t beaten Vermont in two games and we went up there and beat them so I don’t think the past games mean anything other than I think we can play with anybody in the league.”
“We’ve done it before so we know that we can do it again,” Carson Puriefoy said. “I think it’s just a testament to our team as a whole and that we can win on the road, we’ve shown we can win on the road no matter where we play.”
Stony Brook is coming off an upset win at Vermont and already beat Albany in SEFCU Arena during the regular season. Doing so in the championship game will be a whole new challenge, however. How the Seawolves will do so depends on, first and foremost, the play of the reigning America East Player of the Year.
Against the Great Danes, Jameel Warney saw less pressure than against other squads. Albany doubled very late in the first meeting and left just one defender on Warney in the latter game. Guarding Warney will be the 6-foot-11-inch Richard Peters, who Warney admits is a tough player to score on.
“He’s a big cat. I just have to be aggressive when he’s guarding me or when anybody’s guarding me. But he is one of the top defenders I have problems with,” Warney said. “They don’t double team that often because their post defenders are doing a good job on me. I guess I have to be better for them to start double teaming me.”
“He’s seen every defense there is known to man so doesn’t matter. If they want to double him, great. If they want to play him single, great. We’ve seen it all this year,” Pikiell said. “Whatever they feel like doing, we’ll be ready for.”
Pikiell also believes Stony Brook will be ready for Albany’s zone defense that gave the Seawolves trouble in last year’s championship game.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone. If you make shots it doesn’t bother you,” Pikiell said. “When I watch tape and I see us taking good shots I’m not bothered at all.”
This sense of preparedness stems to how Pikiell has handled the rotation in the past couple games. Against Binghamton, Stony Brook inserted Bryan Sekunda and Chris Braley in the heat of the contest while against Vermont the Seawolves stuck with a tight eight-man rotation.
“It depends on the game. Tell me who’s blowing the whistle, tell me who’s in foul trouble, tell me what we need,” Pikiell said. “I love my bench, I don’t hesitate to use any of them. Watch Sekunda, he’ll sneak into this game and make some plays.”
The bench coming up big would be huge for Stony Brook, however the Seawolves will also need their starters to have good games as well. Namely Puriefoy, whose strong second half in Vermont helped secure the win for SBU.
“When I don’t make as many shots as I want to I try to get my teammates involved first and then try to take the easy shots and let the game come to me,” Puriefoy said. “I know the scouting report’s out on me. If they hard hedge that means I can throw it to Jameel which is just as good of a play as me taking a shot. Just adapting to their different types of pressure is what we need to do.”
Puriefoy will also have to be in top shape defensively, since he will likely be given the task of slowing down Albany’s speedy point guard Evan Singletary.
“[Singletary’s] a great player. I know that, coaching staff knows that,” Puriefoy said. “I think the whole team needs to guard him just as much as I need to guard him. They need to have my back just like I need to have their back when they get beat off the dribble or something along those lines. It’s more of a team defensive concept when we guard their best players.”
Their best players extend past Singletary, with Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley being the other major threats on the Great Danes.
“They have four all-league players so it’s not like you can emphasize too much on one player,” Pikiell said. “They have a lot of weapons, they have a lot of good players so we’re going to have to play really well on the defensive end and guys are going to have to really buckle down.”
Defense has not been an issue for Stony Brook this season, but it will certainly be tested as the Seawolves try to upend Albany on Saturday, March 14.
“Really excited,” Warney said. “Going to be a long four to five days, can’t wait to play Saturday morning.”