“Give it to Jameel!” bellowed a Stony Brook Men’s Basketball fan at senior guard Carson Puriefoy. He obliged, and senior forward Jameel Warney made that fan’s day with a right hook shot, taking a five-point lead with 2:44 to play that UMBC would not threaten the rest of the way. The Seawolves would win their America East Playoffs quarterfinal match-up against the Retrievers, 86-76, behind Warney’s 27 points and 23 rebounds.
“[I knew] that if I didn’t take every possession to my advantage, it could be my last game,” Warney said. “Us seniors aren’t trying to go out like that. We’re just trying to do anything to win. Doesn’t matter if I miss 10 free throws, because we still won.”
Warney’s 23 rebounds was an America East playoffs, school and personal record. He shot 8-for-11 and attempted 21 free throws, but was the lesser of two unstoppable forces until halftime arrived.
Junior guard Will Darley scored 24 first-half points for UMBC to put the Retrievers up by as much as eight. However, he only scored eight more once Stony Brook junior guard Ahmad Walker switched onto him defensively with four minutes remaining in the period. Walker immediately came away with a steal and scored a layup on the other end of the court, sparking a 9-0 Seawolves run to take the lead at the break.
“He was just a very pesky defender,” Darley said. “He was very aggressive, and not really letting me get to areas where I wanted to operate.”
UMBC did not look like a No. 8 seed against Stony Brook, turning the contest into a tight shootout. Neither team led by double digits until the final seconds, and every minor run was answered by the other team. Both squads shot at least 50 percent on 3-pointers, and this was only the sixth time the Seawolves allowed an opponent to score 76 points this season.
“In the past we could only win one way,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “We outscored them today, basically. It’s a good sign, we could win two ways. We have the best defense in the league, we’re a top-20 defense in the nation. And you can see what happens when the ball is going in for another team, it doesn’t matter. They took tough, challenged shots.”
Puriefoy finished with 18 points and five assists, but his biggest contribution was on the defensive end. Sophomore guard Jairus Lyles, who leads UMBC in scoring with 23 points per game, shot just 10-for-23 and missed all four of his 3-pointers.
“We just wanted to make him take tough shots,” Puriefoy said. “Didn’t want him to get into the lane. But he had a lot of help with Will Darley going off tonight like he did. We knew coming in they were a great offensive team, we just tied to limit them as much as possible.”
Junior guard Lucas Woodhouse added 17 points, making 5-of-6 3-pointers, and Walker scored 13 on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. The biggest problem for the Seawolves offense was the same one that has plagued the team all season: free throws. Stony Brook shot just 27-for-50 from the line.
“We didn’t want to give up anything easy,” UMBC head coach Aki Thomas said. “The gameplan is if there’s going to be lay-ups, we send them to the free throw line instead of giving up easy layups, but I didn’t see that happening 50 times. I just didn’t. Especially since we’re playing zone. I thought the zone really kept them from penetrating gaps and doing things that they need to do in order to open up shooters and Warney. But, credit to Stony Brook.”
The Retrievers offense kept them in the game from the opening tip. Darley led the way with 32 points, while Lyles scored 22. As a whole, UMBC shot 11-for-22 on 3-pointers.
The first half belonged to Darley, as he went 6-for-8 on 3-pointers and scored 13 in a row for UMBC to put Stony Brook behind early. His play helped the Retrievers make the Seawolves’ defense look pedestrian.
Stony Brook allowed UMBC to shoot 58.6 percent and only forced four turnovers in the first half. During one stretch late in the period, the Retrievers knocked down 11 of 12 shots. The Seawolves shot 53.8 percent themselves, behind 15 points from Warney and nine apiece from Puriefoy and Woodhouse in the opening 20 minutes.
Up next for Stony Brook is a semifinals match-up with No. 7 Hartford, who upset No. 2 Albany in its quarterfinals game. The Seawolves look to take their next step towards a first-ever America East Championship on Monday, March 7.
“We know at this time of year, we’re getting everybody’s best shot,” Puriefoy said. “We can’t take anybody lightly. Upsets happen all the time, so we just have to be diligent with what we do.”