STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The national TV lights were on, Stony Brook sold out the arena for the second time in their two year history at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
When big games are on the line, its usually the Great Danes that stand in the Seawolves’ way, but not on Friday night. Stony Brook finished off a battle by scoring the game’s final seven points, making critical plays to turn a one-point deficit into a 69-63 victory to extend their win streak to a Division-I record 11 games.
Carson Puriefoy scored a team-high 20 points and four assists to go with three of the team’s seven three-pointers. Jameel Warney, who played just 27 minutes after foul trouble put him on the bench early, finished the game with 17 points and five rebounds to go with three critical blocks to pace the Seawolves.
“I feel like I had to contribute,” Warney said of his second half. “I felt like the minutes I played in the second half, I had to do something. I feel like I’m the best player on the court all the time, so I have to act like and play like it.”
Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders each had 14 for Albany, who fell to 4-2 in conference play.
Here are three thoughts from the Friday night victory from Stony Brook:
1. McGrew made the plays late: While seniors Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy were filling up the box score, it could be said that Ray McGrew saved the game.
He saved what could have been an ugly possession after Bryan Sekunda lost the ball tipped by a double team with two minutes left. His pass found Carson Puriefoy at the left wing whose three-pointer missed, but the 6’7” senior streaked in for the rebound.
“He’s a good rebounder, he stays after it,” head coach Steve Pikiell said of McGrew. “He’s having a great year for us too. He does a lot of the little things.”
Even at the free throw line, when Ahmad Walker missed his second free throw to try to put Stony Brook up two with 22.1 seconds left. It was McGrew who came down with the offensive rebound off the miss, put it back and drew the three-point play to give the Seawolves some breathing room.
“I was thinking he was going to make both of them, but at the same time you always have to be prepared for whatever happens,” McGrew said. “I always try to go to the offensive glass aggressive every game.”
It especially helped in the final 20 seconds in a game where Stony Brook made just 10 of their 19 free throws. However, when they needed them, including Warney’s two with 42.5 seconds to go after a foul off the ball on Grieg Stire sent him out of the game; the senior converted.
“[I was] just thinking get on my toes, just take a deep breath,” Warney said. “I do this countless times, I did it in the summer, I shot a lot of free throws. Do it in practice, practice makes perfect, so I felt like if I just do what I do and the two shots will go in.”
The Seawolves made seven of their final nine free throws to close the night.
2. Albany failed to capitalize in the first half: Albany made a conscious effort in the first half to attack Jameel Warney and it worked, similarly to the way Columbia did earlier in the month.
From the tip the Great Danes focused on attacking the 6’8” senior. Either in the post with touches for Mike Rowley early or off the bounce with Singletary, Albany managed to draw fouls on the reigning America East Player of the Year as he looked for blocks early.
Singletary drove the lane to create Warney’s second foul with 12:54 left in the first half, and that was the last the star of the game was seen for the game’s first half. With their star senior out, the offense struggled to say the least.
“We stuck in there that half, then it was 0-0 going into the second half,” Puriefoy said.
They managed to make just 7 of 22 shots from the field (31.8%). Of those shots, the Seawolves took 10 of them from behind the arc, making four to help extend what would get as large as a five point lead in the first half.
“I felt good going into halftime because honestly everyone was in foul trouble, Jameel didn’t play, I didn’t think we played very well and the game was tied,” Pikiell said. “We were, I think, a little bit jacked up early on and just didn’t play like we normally play.”
However, Albany failed to capitalize. They converted on two transition layups early, but they started making three of their first 17 shots. Albany did not make a three-pointer in the entire first half, the only other time they did that was in their season opener against Kentucky. They were able to get to the free throw line, making 10 from there in the half, but even as Dallas Ennema tipped in a Joe Cremo missed runner in the final seconds, not having the lead felt worse going into halftime.
“Stony Brook just had too many easy baskets,” Albany head coach Will Brown said. “We forced them to shoot some jump shots, so we accomplished that goal tonight; but we didn’t finish enough possessions. They made more toughness plays down the stretch in a game that was well within our reach.”
When the pace picked up in the second half, the Great Danes matched the intensity, but just were not able to convert enough on the offensive end or contain the Seawolves’ rebounding. In the final 20 minutes Stony Brook grabbed as many offensive rebounds as Albany collected for the entire half (9). That helped in the edge of creating 12 second chance points in the second half.
“I mean we’ve been talking about rebounding for the whole week, Albany is a terrific rebounding team and they win a lot of games because of that,” Pikiell said. “Certainly it was an emphasis and Ray is good rebounder, especially with the attention Jameel gets, he’s really often under appreciated and left open at times.”
“He’s got great lanes to rebound too, because of the three or four guys on Jameel at times, so does a great job off taking advantage of that.”
McGrew collected 10 second half rebounds.
Even though the Seawolves asserted themselves in the game’s final minute, having this game slip away after not capitalizing on Stony Brook’s lineups without Warney was the one chance the Great Danes had to control this game.
3. Sign us up for two more, right now: The atmosphere, the intensity, even though it was not the best game played between the two schools, it certainly was a sign of things to come.
Even as Stony Brook escaped with the win to move to a 6-0 record, Puriefoy said that his focus wasn’t on the two possibly being on another collision course for a third title rematch.
“I think there’s a lot of teams that are in the race including us, Vermont, New Hampshire, Albany,” Puriefoy said. “We just got to be ready, we’re our biggest enemy, we got to come out there and play hard everyday, practice hard because everybody is going to give us our best shot.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s just us and one other team, because there’s a lot of other great teams in this league, so we got to be prepared.”
Even as the Seawolves get set for Maine on Monday night, their chances of going undefeated in league play increased to just over 21.2%, according to KenPom. The next best team in the rankings is still the Great Danes, sitting just over 60 spots behind.
So far Stony Brook is one of 56 teams in the country to be undefeated at home, an advantage they hope to capitalize on in the America East Playoffs.
“I love the crowd tonight, it was great, really energized the guys,” Pikiell said. “You have to protect home court. We have a good home court advantage and when we have a crowd like that it makes it a hard place to play. It was loud. it was intimidating.”
These two teams meet next on Feb. 17 in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN3, interestingly enough Albany is one of those 56 teams also unbeaten at home. But there is hope that these two could repeat what they have done the last two years; meet on the season’s final Saturday before March Madness.
“They’re a great team, they’re going to bounce back from this one easily,” Warney said dismissing whether or not this win was a message to Albany. “We can’t wait to play them again and hopefully another time.”
Let’s hope so.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.