LI Native, Albany’s Will Brown Seals Legacy with Championship

“Maybe it’s karma.”

That’s what Albany head coach Will Brown said after his team lost the regular season finale to Stony Brook two weeks ago by five points, a similar margin as last season’s regular season finale against the Seawolves. After falling in the regular season finale last season, Brown’s team beat the top seed and went to the road to beat the second-seed in the championship game.

If there ever was a more karmic ending to Pritchard Gym, it came in the form of the Long Island native Brown clinching his fourth championship in the gym he used to head to for pickup games when he was a kid.

Brown, who grew up about 10 miles east of Stony Brook in Miller Place, said he remembered when Pritchard Gym was a destination with three courts running at the same time. On Saturday, he was pacing the sidelines and working in a seven-man rotation to outlast the Seawolves in front of a hostile sold out crowd.

“I didn’t score a point. I didn’t get a rebound. I didn’t block a shot,” Brown said after the game crediting his players with the victory. “I have scored a lot of baskets in this gym though, but that was a long time ago, back in the day when I was looking for a pickup game, I’d come on over here when they had three courts going across. That’s a long time ago.”

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Albany head coach Will Brown paces the bench during Saturday’s America East championship game at Pritchard Gym. (photo courtesy: America East)

It might have felt like a long time ago for Brown, who led Long Island his senior year at Miller Place High School averaging 35 points per game and was accepted into Penn. However, after a year in Philadelphia, Brown transferred to Dowling on Long Island where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

On Saturday, he was able to shoot around with his son over an hour before the game and he said he heard from a few Stony Brook fans.

“I had more people thank me before this game started, Stony Brook fans,” Brown said. “I usually sit out in the stands until an hour before the game, I shot with my son for a few minutes today.”

“I had four or five Stony Brook fans come up to me and say, ‘Coach, thank you for beating Vermont, thank you.’ I bit my tongue, because I’ve been known to be a little sarcastic at times, inside I’m thinking, ‘say that to me after this game.'”

It was going to be an uphill battle against a team that went a combined 37-3 over their last 40 games in their home building. A sold out crowd for the final game in Pritchard Gym, NCAA tournament implications, but Brown’s message to his team was simple.

“I told these guys was regardless of the score, regardless of the atmosphere, stay the course, weather the storm,” Brown said. “The closer this game was later in the game, the tighter I thought they would be, the more relaxed and loose I thought we would be.”

The first three minutes of the game tested that plan. In five possessions, Stony Brook scored nine points and forced Brown to take his first timeout with 17:04 left in the first half.

“They got up to that 9-0 run and we were good because we were down 10-0 last year at Vermont,” Brown said. “[Peter] Hooley runs right back to me and goes, ‘coach don’t worry, we were down 10-0 at Vermont,’ and I’m like that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

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Albany head coach Will Brown (center) diagrams a play during a timeout. (Photo Courtesy: America East)

Everything Brown worried about was coming true, except for the nightmares he said he had of Carson Puriefoy tearing through his defense the night before.

“I couldn’t get any sleep, I was having Puriefoy shakes,” Brown said. “I didn’t know if we would be able to stop him in transition. I didn’t know if we would be able to keep him away from the rim, that was a goal of ours. We knew that we don’t have anybody physically who could matchup with [Jameel] Warney, just a great physical specimen, Puriefoy worried me more than Warney did, he’s quicker than quick and we needed to get five guys in front of the ball.”

“Our biggest concerns were Puriefoy and Warney, individually. We wanted to make Stony Brook play five on five in the half court, that was huge for us.”

The Great Danes outscored the Seawolves 18-4 after Brown’s timeout. Albany forced Stony Brook into difficult situations on the offensive end, hedging ball screens and picking up steals in the lane, while stifling their offense with a 2-3 zone that since the opening deficit held the Seawolves to 18-52 from the field (34.6%). Albany made every pass difficult for Stony Brook to toss it into Warney, senior Gary Johnson made what was possibly a key play in the game tipping a Dave Coley bounce pass intended for the America East Player of the Year. Johnson tipped it, dove to the ground and the ensuing tie up gave Albany the ball back with just under three minutes remaining.

While it may have been a homecoming for Brown, Hooley couldn’t have felt further from home. On the next possession the Australia native was inadvertently hit in the face near the top of the key. Brown asked how Hooley was feeling and the sophomore said he was fine, assistant coach Jeremy Friel said the hit would help Hooley make his next three.

“At the most important time, he stepped up and made a big three,” Brown said of Hooley, who he said he tried to run the offense through after Sam Rowley fouled out with 7:02 remaining.

The Great Danes sealed the game with a 18-19 performance at the free throw line, converting when the game was on the line as they have all season long. Their better than 74% free throw percentage ranks 23rd in the nation.

When asked what the victory at Pritchard meant to the Miller Place native, he reminisced about what he appreciates of his time on Long Island.

“It means my deli sandwich and my pizza that I’m going to eat on the bus ride home are going to taste so much better,” Brown said. “That’s what I miss about Long Island: deli’s, pizza, bagels, I don’t miss the traffic, but winning here is special because it was a championship and because not too many teams win here.”

He will tell you to stop at a deli in Glen Cove, if you ask him, but the 2010 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductee more significantly sealed his legacy on Long Island again. He may never step in to Pritchard Gym again, after playing there as a kid, but a victory in Saturday’s championship game adds him to a unique duo: with his fourth NCAA tournament bid, Brown joins Jim Calhoun as the only two coaches to win four America East championships.

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.

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