Sophomore Peter Hooley found the right time to make the biggest play in the America East championship game.
Up 58-56 in the final 90 seconds, the redshirt sophomore, who was battling with Carson Puriefoy all game, had the ball in his hands at the top of the key. Once he started driving right, Puriefoy slipped down inside the three-point line, leaving Hooley to step back and drain a three to put Albany up 61-56 with 59.9 second remaining.
“Coach always has confidence in me,” Hooley said. “He just said keep shooting the ball, one is bound to go in. Coach Friel said the knock to the head I got means the next one was going to go in and I guess he was right.”
Hooley got hit in the head at the top of the key with just under three minutes remaining. After an inadvertent whistle, Hooley drove the the lane, missed the layup but John Puk’s offensive rebound and follow led to an Eric McAlister foul. Puk’s two free throws put Albany up 56-54 and they would never relinquish the lead from that point on.
After Hooley’s clutch three put the Great Danes up five, Albany would close the game out at the free throw line and go on for a 69-60 victory over Stony Brook in a sold out Pritchard Gym on Saturday to clinch their second straight America East championship. The Great Danes win back to back championships on the road for the first time in conference history. Their championship and subsequent ticket to the NCAA tournament is their fourth conference tournament championship since 2006.
“The biggest thing coming into this game was to not get caught up in the atmosphere, but to embrace the atmosphere, stay the course and be relaxed,” Albany head coach Will Brown said. “We felt that all the pressure was on them and we definitely weathered the storm, bad foul trouble in the second half, couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean for couple of minutes and this group, who in the last month, as we’ve gotten healthier our noses have hardened greatly and we’ve developed a sense of urgency.”
“I told them coming into the game that we were the best team in this league and playing the best basketball in this league and if we don’t hurt ourselves today, you will be happy with the end result.”
Sam Rowley led all scorers with 18 points, D.J. Evans scored 16 points and Hooley was named America East tournament MVP and knocked down a game-high three three-pointers and finished with 15 points. Carson Puriefoy finished with 13 points and Jameel Warney scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Albany was able to storm back into the game despite losing Rowley, who fouled out with 7:02 remaining. At that time the Great Danes trailed by six after Eric McAlister drained two free throws.
“I was looking at our guys and every player that was on the court has experience playing in a final,” Rowley said. “Everybody knew we had to make run at that time, if we were going to win the game and we just executed. I have so much faith and trust in the guys that were on the court.”
Hooley paid off that faith with a tough runner to cut the lead to four, Evans drove on the next possession to cut it to two and on the third possession, Puk made two free throws to tie the game back up at 52 with 5:41 remaining.
From there Albany outscored Stony Brook 17-8 in the final minutes. The Great Danes shot 44% from the field, which included making all 16 free throws they had in the second half. Stony Brook struggled to move the ball against Albany’s zone defense, making just 31.8% of their two-pointers in the second half to go with just two three-pointers for the game.
“When we’re good enough and play well enough in these games, we’ll be able to win today,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “We didn’t have one of those days.”
After the Seawolves opened up with a 9-0 run to start the game, they were stifled by Ablany’s 2-3 zone looks and hedging of high ball screens.
“We know it’s a long game,” Rowley said of trailing early. “We know there’s 40 minutes in a basketball game, that wasn’t the way we planned on starting the game.”
That allowed the Great Danes to go on an Albany 18-4 run and go up by as many as six in the middle of the half. However, Rayshaun McGrew answered with a free throw line jumper to get the Seawolves within two and made two free throws to tie the game up at 27. The Great Danes answered with an uncontested Sam Rowley jumper from the right wing and a Hooley three-pointer. Two free throws would be added by Dallas Ennema and Albany carried a three-point lead into halftime.
Ryan Restivo covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.