Stony Brook Men’s Basketball alumnus Eric McAlister thinks about the four America East tournament losses he lived through all the time.
Fellow alumnus Ben Resner thinks the Seawolves have covered all the bases in terms of ways it can go wrong.
With perhaps the most talented class of seniors facing one last chance at sending the Seawolves to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, head coach Steve Pikiell just wants his team to focus on the short-term.
“Hopefully I can keep them focused on [the regular season] other than focused on the end of the year,” Pikiell said. “There’s always urgency. I think we’ve been so close.”
2015 All-America East First Team members Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy had their chances whisked away by two final-second game-winners and one last-minute dagger, all to in-state rival Albany. The latest heartbreaker came last March when the Great Danes’ Peter Hooley hit a three off a tipped-out ball to give Albany a one-point edge with 1.9 seconds to play. Despite never having won the championship game, many say there has not been an underlying problem plaguing the Seawolves, just tough breaks that will eventually work themselves out.
“I don’t think it’s one thing you could point to,” McAlister said. “If you look at the seasons, we’ve always been very successful and it’s always just a matter of that one game.”
What will it take for the Seawolves to win that one game?
“You don’t have to do anything crazy,” Resner said. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Keep doing what we’ve done and the right thing will happen.”
Great Danes head coach Will Brown agrees.
“I think it’s unfair to just judge somebody strictly on what’s happened in the conference tournament,” Brown said. “I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
If so, Stony Brook is entering its season with maybe its best chance yet. The Seawolves are returning all of their players from last season outside of transfers Scott King and Chris Braley. Senior Rayshaun McGrew will bring his usual dose of strong defense and rebounding.
Pikiell will also get to play transfer point guard Lucas Woodhouse, while Ahmad Walker transferred back to Stony Brook after leaving following his freshman year. Pikiell considers both “starting caliber” players. Their five freshmen from last year now have postseason experience, and Warney and Puriefoy are motivated to finally break through.
“On paper they’re probably more talented than anybody in the league,” Brown said. “I will send Warney and Puriefoy graduation gifts. I would send them now if they were willing to graduate in December.”
Pikiell wants to take full advantage of the fact that the majority of his roster is returning—with only Woodhouse and Walker as key additions—and looks to build chemistry right away. In prior years, the team’s tournament rotation was not set until late in the season.
“I would love to get that done earlier,” Pikiell said. “Usually doesn’t work that way between injuries and experience and how guys play. We were replacing a lot of starters from the year before so this year will be a little different.”
This year will also be tougher given Stony Brook’s nonconference schedule, which Pikiell described as “brutal.” Only five of the Seawolves’ 13 non-conference games are at home.
Stony Brook’s reliance on Warney and Puriefoy will remain the same, although they are not the same players from last season. Warney slimmed down, improved his conditioning and is knocking down 15-foot jumpers, according to Pikiell. Puriefoy will be playing away from the ball more with Woodhouse, more of a traditional point guard, coming in.
Stony Brook has been the favorite several times before, but both current and former players believe that this will be the team to take that next step.
“I feel like we’re more talented this year and we’re more experienced,” Warney said.
The talent has always been there for the Seawolves, but not like this year.
“The opportunity’s always been there, the teams have always been really good,” McAlister said. “But I do think this is without a doubt one of the best teams Stony Brook has had.”
As for Pikiell, as hard as he tried, even he could not suppress his hunger for another chance.
“Let’s just get to that last game again and let’s do it,” Pikiell said. “We’re going to dig, scratch and claw to get back to that game again and hopefully the ball gets tipped by four people and it goes to our guy and he tees one up.”