Albany junior guard Joe Cremo knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to end a personal 8-0 run, cutting Stony Brook Men’s Basketball’s lead down to 49-46 with 9:13 remaining in the second half. Cremo turned to the crowd, pounded his chest and threw his hands up to get the crowd back into the game.
Despite the Great Danes’ best efforts, they would not take down the Seawolves for a third time this season.
“I feel like this is a lot like déjà vu all over again,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “Last season, we beat them twice in the regular season and then they knocked us out of the tournament. They beat us twice this year, and we came back up here, and we knew this was going to be a tough 40 minutes.”
Stony Brook got off to a hot start and held off multiple comeback attempts by Albany to survive the first round of the America East Conference Tournament by a final score of 69-60 Saturday night at the State Employees Federal Credit Union Arena.
Redshirt-sophomore forward Akwasi Yeboah scored a team-high 18 points, with 15 coming in the second half. His 3-pointer gave the Seawolves a nine-point cushion with 2:18 remaining to ice the game.
“I was in foul trouble early, and they were doing a good job defending me,” Yeboah said. “Tonight, I just stayed positive and was ready to go no matter what. I wasn’t letting that get me down. I was still supporting my teammates in the second half.”
Yeboah was not the only Seawolf to torch the Great Danes. Senior forward Junior Saintel scored seven straight points in the first half en route to a 17-point, seven-rebound and three-block performance. Freshman forward Elijah Olaniyi scored the first nine of the team’s 12 points in the first five minutes of the game, finishing the night with 12 points and four rebonds.
Albany used multiple runs to get back into the game, but were never able to get over the final hump to take the lead. The Great Danes used a 10-0 run at the end of the first half to head into the locker room only trailing by five, but the Seawolves opened the second half on a 10-3 run to push the lead back into double digits three minutes into the second half.
The second run from Albany came much later in the second half. Led by Cremo and junior guard David Nichols, the Great Danes used a 15-2 run to revitalize the crowd and draw within three points with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation. Boals said that despite the run and the crowd getting back into the game, he had faith his team would hold onto the lead.
“We bent, but we didn’t break,” Boals said. “I think that’s the sign of a mature team, a team that has grown throughout the year. We went through a stretch where we lost five games by 25 points combined. We’ve been playing at a really high level, our defense has been at a high level.”
Stony Brook kept its composure after calling timeout after the 15-2 run. Both teams traded baskets until senior forward Jakub Petras scored back-to-back layups to push the lead back up to seven points.
Nichols was one of Albany’s leading scorers in the first two games against Stony Brook, scoring 19 and 14 points respectively. Freshman guard Jordan McKenzie had the job of guarding and shutting down the junior guard in the quarterfinals matchup.
He finished the contest with eight points on 2-15 shooting from the field.
“The first two games we played them, Nichols had his way with us,” Boals said. “He was able to score off ball screens and in transition. I thought we did a great job of making him work for it. Jordan’s gotten better as a defender since day one. I thought both him and [junior guard Jaron Cornish] did a great job when they switched onto him.”
The Seawolves advanced to the America East semifinals for the ninth consecutive season. The team will travel to Burlington, Vermont to face the No. 1-seeded Catamounts on Tuesday, March 6 at 7 p.m. at Patrick Gym. Stony Brook fell to Vermont 69-60 in the regular season finale on Feb. 24. Boals knows his team is ready to face the familiar opponent.
“When we played them last week, we were right there with them,” Boals said. “When you play a team like Vermont, they have so many seniors. They don’t beat themselves. You have to find a way to take care of the basketball, execute at a high level and see what happens.”