It looked like a case of same Seawolves, different day when junior guard Ahmad Walker missed the second of two free throws with 22 seconds remaining with the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team leading Albany by one. The Seawolves were in danger of falling to the Great Danes in similar fashion to last year’s America East Championship, until senior forward Rayshaun McGrew hustled for the offensive rebound and scored a layup plus the ensuing foul shot to give the team a four-point advantage.
“I was thinking he was going to make both of them,” McGrew said. “But at the same time you always have to be prepared for whatever happens, so I always try to go to the offensive glass aggressive.”
Stony Brook would close it out to win 69-63, making it 11 straight victories for the Seawolves. As usual, senior forward Jameel Warney and senior guard Carson Puriefoy dominated the stat sheet, scoring 17 and 20 points, respectively. Also as usual, the overlooked McGrew quietly played as big a role as either in securing the win.
“Especially with the attention Jameel gets, [McGrew’s] really often underappreciated,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “He does a lot of things for us. When you really break down film you really realize how important he is. He’s a verbal guy in our defense, he’s always guarding the best frontcourt player, he scores.”
McGrew collected three offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, seven total rebounds in the final 5:20 and finished the game with 11 points and 13 boards. With 12:54 remaining in the first half, Warney picked up his second foul and sat until the halftime break. McGrew played 11:49 during that stretch, anchoring the defense and keeping the game close. Albany outscored Stony Brook by just two after Warney’s exit, as the teams headed to the locker rooms tied.
“It’s great to know that you can trust your teammates,” Warney said. “They’re ready at anytime.”
Neither team gained a lead of more than six points, with both squads making potential momentum-grabbing plays that were answered. Warney blocked a wide-open dunk attempt by sophomore forward Greig Stire with under five minutes to play. A minute earlier, Stony Brook had a five-point edge that quickly disappeared after a rushed shot by Walker and a Puriefoy foul on senior guard Evan Singletary shooting from deep. Puriefoy hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half to spark the offense, but Stony Brook could not pull away. Free throws held the Seawolves back, as they shot just 10-for-19 from the stripe on the night.
“This is what we’ve shot in a lot of games,” Pikiell said. “We have to make free throws and if you don’t, you better figure out a way to still win.”
Neither team looked good on offense in the first half, with each only making 35 percent of its shots. The Great Danes ignored Walker on the perimeter, which limited the Seawolves’ spacing. Sophomore guard Bryan Sekunda picking up two fouls a little over midway through the first half did not help. In previous games, Pikiell would turn to a lineup with sophomore forward Roland Nyama at the power forward position to spread the floor, but did not against Albany. Nyama did not play in the game.
“These guys are bully fours and fives, they’re not perimeter fours or fives,” Pikiell said. “It’s tough. Those guys are big and physical, and I just liked the lineup that we had.”
Albany got off to a hot start in the second half, but Stony Brook kept its cool. The Seawolves’ championship game loss did not linger in their minds during this first rematch since the heartbreaking loss.
“We just try to take it one game at a time,” McGrew said. “The game from last year wasn’t in my head, I doubt any of my teammates’ heads.”
Although the players looked at this as just another regular season game, they were likely the only ones. ESPNU’s broadcast of the rivalry game was the lone 9 o’clock college basketball game in the nation. The Island Federal Credit Union Arena lobby did its best Penn Station impression, and non-student tickets sold out over six hours before gametime. Even the weather added to the atmosphere, with a coming blizzard allowing students to move back to campus two days early and catch the contest.
“It wasn’t a pretty game but it was a win,” Pikiell said. “I’m happy with that.”