Everyone watching the first game at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena might not have known it, but down one with seconds left, they assumed the worst. Defending America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney was going to miss his final free throw with a chance to tie the game at 57.
It wasn’t something that was hard to believe either, considering that Stony Brook missed four front ends of bonus free throws earlier in the game and was struggling to consistently put the ball in the basket.
They had a drought in the first half of 7:11 between made field goals and for the game made 10 of 21 free throws. Normally that’s a formula for a loss, especially when the last free throw is a miss.
However, Warney trailed his own miss, tried to put it back, but couldn’t, then junior Ray McGrew grabbed the offensive rebound, Stony Brook’s 15th of the game, and laid it in the hoop to put the Seawolves up for the first time since they were up 3-0 just over a minute into the game.
“Honestly I don’t know,” McGrew said of how he positioned himself for the rebound. “I feel like it came to me. I felt like that was how it was supposed to go out there and took advantage of it.”
A win can cover up plenty and tonight it was the Seawolves inability to convert from 15 feet away. Warney went 0-6 from the line, by far the worst night from the free throw line in his college career. It wasn’t just Warney though, his teammate Carson Puriefoy missed the front end of Stony Brook’s first bonus free throws. Warney did the same thing three times himself.
Yet Stony Brook walks away with a 57-56 victory over Columbia to open their new arena. After trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, it’s almost a miracle that the Seawolves got the game as close as they did within the final two minutes.
With 1:26 remaining Columbia junior Maodo Lo drove the lane practically uncontested, a miscommunication by multiple Seawolves, for an easy layup to put the Lions up 56-51. However, Stony Brook answered by a strong drive by Puriefoy and kick out to freshman Bryan Sekunda in the left corner on the weak side. He never hesitated on the open three and his shot, like both his three’s on the night, was nothing but net.
“Bryan teed it up and he’s a shooter, you don’t know until you get guys in live action and he didn’t hesitate,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “I really like that part of him, but they executed.”
The Seawolves, who struggled to get stops when they needed to last season, had to make multiple ones in the final minute. Cory Osetkowski posted up Warney, but missed his shot, but Isaac Cohen grabbed the loose rebound and tossed it to Lo. The junior, who led all scorers with 19 points, went one on one on McGrew at the top of the key, but his step back jumper from 17 feet was short.
Puriefoy’s quick drive and pass to McGrew, who drew a foul, got him to the line with 13.1 seconds left. He made the first, but his second missed and as Warney tried to tip it out he was fouled.
“Our foul shooting has been a little bit of an issue for us,” Pikiell said after the game. “We have to certainly improve that.”
Columbia head coach Kyle Smith could only watch as a lead that seemed almost insurmountable slipped away in the most unlikely of ways.
“I watched it already,” Smith said referring to the game film. “We blocked out. There were bodies on the floor and one of them just, they wanted it a little more there that last possession.”
Stony Brook finished four for 13 in the second half from the free throw line and its possible that it was for the best. For once, missing free throws benefitted the Seawolves in a comeback victory.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.