Stony Brook Men’s Basketball made history Saturday capturing their first America East Championship and ensuring their entry into the NCAA Tournament. After falling short four times over the past five years the Stony Brook Seawolves refused to let history repeat itself with an 80-74 victory over the University of Vermont. Vermont was ahead 36-27 at the half, and the Catamounts would extend their lead to fifteen in the second half. The boisterous, sold-out crowd at the Island Federal Credit Union arena fell quiet.
After a Stony Brook timeout, the players—and the fans—returned with renewed energy, enthusiasm and hope. The Seawolves clawed back into the game and with 6:19 left on the clock; senior Rayshaun McGrew tied it at 61 on a short jumper.
But the undeniable star of the game was senior Jameel Warney. The three-time America East Player of the Year made a free throw with 5:59 left, and Stony Brook took the lead 62-61. Warney led the team with a career high 43 points. He also contributed 10 rebounds and four blocks in 38 minutes of action. It was arguably the best game of his collegiate career.
As time expired, Warney was visibly emotional. The 6-foot 8 center crouched down and slapped the court as a broad smile grew across his face. It seemed to be the only moment in the entire game where his feet stopped moving.
Although Warney contributed to more than half of Stony Brook’s points, senior Carson Puriefoy made crucial baskets, wrestling back momentum and reinvigorating the crowd. Carson made all five of the team’s three-pointers. He finished with 23 points, tallied four assists and three rebounds. He played every minute of the game. It was a recipe for victory: Warney dominating from the inside and Puriefoy knocking it down from the outside.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Stony Brook Head Coach Steve Pikiell said. “This group has been unbelievable. We got great kids. I’m happy for our university. This is the best senior class I’ve ever coached. It was a very proud day for a great university.”
Vermont had played in Island Federal Credit Union Arena this season once before and handed Stony Brook its only home loss this season The two teams squared off on Feb. 27 and Vermont easily won 76-62, which spoiled Stony Brook’s senior day. Freshman Ernie Duncan was the difference maker then with 23 points which led the team, and he made all four of his three-point attempts. However his conference championship performance did not have as much of an impact.
He shot 4-9 from the field and went 3-5 from beyond the three-point line with 11 points in 34 minutes. He and sophomore guard Trae Bell-Haynes also had four turnovers each. SBU started off the first half relying heavily on Warney’s offensive prowess. He had 18 of the team’s 27 points after the first 20 minutes. The seniors provided the only offense in the first half.
Vermont’s stat line is in complete contrast. They don’t have a standout, reliable player like SBU does. In the first half, the Catamounts had four players with five points or more. Duncan was the top scorer with eight.
The second half was a totally different animal for the Seawolves as they totaled 53 points and outscored the Catamounts by 15. They are known for not converting at the foul line and that’s been their flaw all season. They shot 14-18 from the free throw line in the second half and were aggressive to get to the charity strike. They finished the game going 19-28 from the foul line while Vermont shot very well from the line at 14-17. Vermont could have gone to the line more times if they didn’t turn the ball over as much by committing charges and offensive fouls.
Following Vermont’s 15-point lead in the second half and Pikiell’s subsequent timeout, Warney put SBU on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit back to nine and shift the momentum in favor of the Seawolves. Puriefoy’s jump shot blossomed as he made three trifectas in the second half and scored 16 of his 23 points.
“I don’t ever think we were out of the game,” Puriefoy said after the team was down big. “We know how to play when we’re down. I’m extremely proud of this group and we got it done.”
Vermont was also deeply affected by Stony Brook’s ability to execute the pick and roll with Warney and junior guard Lucas Woodhouse. They continued to feed Warney, who kept slipping off screens, which gave him great looks at the basket.
“I came out and I was being aggressive,” Warney said. “I played to my strength. You got to be aggressive the whole game.”
Stony Brook’s NCAA tournament opponent for the first round will be announced on Sunday when the brackets are determined