“Wait ’til next year.”
For a good portion of the 40s and 50s, that was the unofficial slogan for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a baseball franchise that always built up plenty of anticipation with exciting regular seasons, but ultimately broke the hearts of its fanbase every year with disappointing finishes in the postseason.
The slogan seems rather fitting for the Stony Brook men’s basketball program, which has put up at least 20 wins in five of its last six seasons, but has ultimately always come up short of winning a conference championship.
During the final seconds of Saturday’s America East championship rematch between the Seawolves and the Great Danes, it appeared as if Stony Brook was ready to finally put an end to the heartbreak. The duo of Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy had carried their team to a 50-48 advantage and were just one defensive stop away from securing the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance.
Then came a final 17 seconds that probably made even the least superstitious Seawolves fans out there believe that there may be some sort of curse looming over this program.
Albany’s Ray Sanders drove the lane only to see his shot attempt hit off the top of the backboard. The shot’s rebound was tipped out to the top of the key, and with 3.7 seconds remaining, Peter Hooley was there wide open to retrieve the ball, and then knock down the seemingly impossible game-winning three-point shot.
Without a doubt, Stony Brook suffered some unfortunate luck on the game’s final sequence. But the team still can be blamed for letting a multi-possession lead in the championship game’s final minutes slip away.
After a pair of made free throws from Puriefoy with 1:56 remaining, the Seawolves were up 49-42 and seemingly had their ticket punched to the big dance. But a quick jumper by Albany’s Evan Singletary, followed by two missed free throws from Warney, put the Great Danes right back in the game.
With just under a minute remaining, the Seawolves’ lead was down to three. But, the team still seemed to be in control of the game, until an inbounds pass from Rayshaun McGrew went right through the hands of his intended target, Puriefoy, and out of bounds.
The miscue from the junior point guard proved to be crucial, as the Great Danes would receive the ball and maintain possession until Mike Rowley nailed down two clutch free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining.
The Seawolves finally made their way back to the free throw line on their next possession, but Puriefoy was only able to make 1-of-2 from the line. From there, Hooley would break the hearts of Stony Brook fans for the second-straight season and provide a devastating finish to what had been another strong campaign for the program.
For those who do not remember, Hooley hit a crucial three pointer with 1:04 remaining in last year’s America East championship game which all but secured the win for Albany.
Although the failures of Warney and Puriefoy stand out when looking back at the game’s final minutes, it is hard to put too much blame on the two men, considering they were the reason that the Seawolves came so close to dancing this spring.
When Stony Brook came out of the gate ice cold from the field, scoring just two points in the game’s first 9:51, it was Warney who kept the team in it. The America East Player of the Year scored 12 of his team’s 20 first half points, dominated on the glass and did a terrific job of keeping Albany’s interior offense to a limit in the game’s first twenty minutes.
Late in the second half, the Great Danes put tremendous defensive pressure on Warney and sent out a challenge to the rest of the Seawolves that another player would have to make big shots if they wanted to dethrone Albany. Puriefoy accepted that challenge.
The man known as “Tre” lived up to his name, draining three shots from behind the arc in the game’s final 6:11.
But, the two men’s efforts were not enough, and the Seawolves did not seem to have another scoring option to help them carry the load down the stretch. McGrew, who has averaged nearly nine points a game this season, found himself in early foul trouble and was never able to make much of an impact offensively.
He was held scoreless, just like two of the team’s others starters, Roland Nyama and Deshaun Thrower. The two first year Seawolves, both playing in their first conference championship games, got off to slow starts from the field and saw their shot opportunities cut drastically as the game continued on. Nyama rode the bench for much of the contest, only getting 10 minutes of action.
It is hard to believe that Stony Brook was almost able to escape with a win against the now three-time defending conference champions, considering Seawolf players not named Warney or Puriefoy combined for just seven points in the game.
The Seawolves should be given credit for their strong defensive effort. They held Albany to just 31.1 percent from the field and denied the Great Danes a three-pointer until the game’s final seconds.
But in the end, Stony Brook did still fall short of its ultimate goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. And once again, many SBU fans must be wondering right now if it will ever be their team’s turn to dance.
Looking on the bright side, which admittedly is hard to do right after a heartbreaking loss like this one, the Seawolves will likely have their entire roster returning next season.
The conference’s best player, Warney, will be back with another year of experience under his belt. SBU will always have a chance to achieve big things with him in the lineup.
Also returning as seniors will be Puriefoy, McGrew and Scott King, all providing a strong leadership core for the team moving forward.
The Seawolves will also have an exciting group of young players in Nyama, Thrower, Tyrell Sturdivant and Jakub Petras returning this fall. None of them seemed ready to make a big impact in this year’s championship game, but perhaps after another year of development, they will be.
It is hard for an SBU fan to be anything but gloomy after a game like today’s. However, it is important for them to remember that the window for this group to win an America East championship is far from closed. This version of the Warney-led Seawolves will be back for one more run at an NCAA tournament berth. The team was not ready to dance this season, but perhaps by next year they will be.
The Brooklyn Dodgers finally had their day on Oct. 4, 1955, when they defeated the New York Yankees in game seven of the World Series to finally earn their first championship. They finally had their day, and the slogan “wait ’til next year” instantly became a thing of the past.
With the way Stony Brook continues to bring in high-level talent, it seems likely the program will have its day soon enough. But for now, Seawolves fans will just have to “wait ’til next year.”