On Feb. 27, Vermont cruised to a 14-point win over the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team behind 23 points from redshirt freshman guard Ernie Duncan. Head coach Steve Pikiell’s team could not claw any closer than six points in the contest’s final 28:43.
But on Saturday, the Seawolves will get another shot at defeating Vermont–this time with their first conference title on the line– as the two squads will play in the America East Championship game for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In postseason play, Stony Brook has fallen in its last three seasons to Albany. Two of those losses came in the conference championship game. This year, however, the SUNY rival lost in the opening round of the America East Playoffs to Hartford.
“I know people are excited about Albany losing,” former Seawolves forward Eric McAlister said. “Vermont is by no means a pushover. They came in a few weeks ago and jumped on Stony Brook from the tip. So to say Stony Brook is in because Albany lost and discredit Vermont would be a big mistake.”
Senior forward Jameel Warney–now a three-time America East Player of the Year–will look to lead the way against the Catamounts after combining for 48 points and 36 rebounds in the playoffs’ quarterfinals and semifinals. The team’s three seniors, including guard Carson Puriefoy and Rayshaun McGrew, have gotten to this championship game before, which former Stony Brook guard Ben Resner said will be a major key to success.
“Tre [Puriefoy] and Jameel especially are experienced in big games, which will help them on Saturday,” Resner said. “At the end of the day though, you need your best players to play well in big games, and Jameel and Tre understand the gravity of the situation and they are up to the challenge.”
Stony Brook’s postseason losses over the few seasons were all tight match-ups. Three years ago, it came down to a layup in the final seconds of the America East semifinals.
In 2014, the Seawolves led the Great Danes by six points with under seven minutes to go and arguably Albany’s best player, then-junior forward Sam Rowley, fouled out. Despite Rowley having to sit out the rest of the game, Albany went on a 23-8 run to take the championship.
Last season, junior guard Peter Hooley caught a tipped rebound and put in a final-second, go-ahead 3-pointer to steal Stony Brook’s first America East title.
None of those games were blowouts, but McAlister said that this year’s squad is different than all of its predecessors.
“A main difference for this team is their ability to score and total versatility,” McAlister said about the team that has averaged 76.7 points per game. “They were good offensively last year but they hurt teams in so many ways.”
Junior guards Ahmad Walker and Lucas Woodhouse have been key transfer additions throughout the season, supplementing the seniors’ production and at times making key shots themselves. The duo combined for 20 points and 13 assists in Stony Brook’s semifinal win over Hartford.
Vermont has its own balanced attack that it will bring Saturday morning. Five of its players average more than 9.5 points per game, and the team has averaged 83.2 points during the seven-game winning streak that it is carrying into the championship game.
While it was Duncan who hurt the Seawolves the most, senior forward Ethan O’Day scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Vermont’s 11-point loss to Stony Brook on Jan. 30 and sophomore guard Trae Bell-Haynes paced the team with 13 points.
McAlister noted how UMBC junior guard Will Darley, who had averaged 11.2 points heading into his team’s quarterfinal against Stony Brook, erupted for 32 points.
Although Stony Brook’s season has featured several SportsCenter appearances, a then-nation-leading 18-game winning streak and a regular-season America East title, McAlister said that the Seawolves cannot underestimate their opponent.
“The ball might not drop for us like it did my sophomore year against Vermont,” McAlister said. “Key players could get into foul trouble. Both teams are clearly well coached, it’ll be about who executes their respective game plans better.”
Correction: March 11, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Stony Brook has averaged 70.1 points per game. The Seawolves have averaged 76.7 points per contest.