Binghamton freshman Justin McFadden had the ball in his hands on the left wing, down three, with just under 30 seconds left at Stony Brook. A raucous crowd cheered on as the Bearcats looked to become the first road team to advance in the America East playoffs.
The 6’5″ freshman received a pass from the driving Willie Rodriguez, who accounted for plenty of Seawolves’ attention all night. His pass landed in McFadden’s shot ready hands and appeared to be heading down, when it rattled in and out of the rim.
The Bearcats would come no closer to a tie as third-seeded Stony Brook iced the game advanced with a 62-57 victory over Binghamton in the quarterfinal round of the America East Playoffs.
“I thought it was going in,” Rodriguez, who had a game-high 19 points, said. “When I kicked it out and I saw him wide open, I got excited. I really thought it was going to go in, he was going to tie the game up.”
However, it was not meant to be, and was one of at least three shots that rattled in and out of the tin during the second half for the Bearcats, who managed to make six of their 16 three-point shot attempts.
Carson Puriefoy and Rayshaun McGrew led the way for Stony Brook, each with 14 points, while America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney collected 11 points along with a game-high 14 rebounds. The junior Warney collected the rebound off of McFadden’s miss and followed it up by sealing the game with two free throws on the other end.
“Coach’s motto is 40 gets you 40, so it’s all about survive and advance,” Warney said.
That philosophy from Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell, that they wanted 40 minutes to get them 40 more when they advance, faced trouble in the first half. Binghamton came out early and had the Seawolves on the ropes early with their zone defense and their full court pressure. Stony Brook failed to score a point for just over six minutes in the middle of the first half, however the Bearcats could only muster five points on their nine possessions in that span.
“I never thought they got into a rhythm in the first half,” Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey said of his team’s defense on the Seawolves, who shot 30.8% from the field in the half, Binghamton led Stony Brook at halftime 25-23. It also did not help that McGrew was shelved after a first half where he drew two quick fouls, playing just six minutes.
“I thought we were getting good shots,” Pikiell said of their first half struggles. “We went through foul trouble, in the first half too and that was my big message at halftime. We got through foul trouble, now you guys can play a little bit and I thought they really responded.”
Though the Bearcats held a two-point lead going into the break, the Seawolves counter punch came midway through the second half and was difficult to stop. Stony Brook mounted a 14-0 run, finished off by a Puriefoy three-pointer from the left wing.
However, the Bearcats were allowed to mount a late run thanks to Stony Brook’s woes from the free throw line, they finished the final 20 minutes making 12 of their 22 free throws, and closed what was a lead of 11 at one point, back to three at two times in the game’s final minutes.
At the game’s critical moment, Dempsey found himself out of timeouts, having used all of his timeouts to try and either stop the bleeding of Stony Brook’s runs or off of made shots as they came back into the game. Rodriguez drove the lane and kicked out to McFadden who’s three-pointer rattled out.
“I had to trust them and they had to trust each other,” Dempsey said. “They did some really good things, there was a couple of times where it was like we were ready to get blown out of here and these guys just had such resolve.”
On the other end, the junior Puriefoy said he was frightened it might go in, but it was just another way this Stony Brook team – which has earned wins through ups and downs all season on both ends – figured out a way to survive and advance.
“I didn’t want it to go in, it was a little frightening, but we’re a veteran team and if he had made that shot and we would come down and get a good one up,” Puriefoy said. “We’ve been in that situation before, there isn’t a situation we haven’t been in this season, so just because they make shots doesn’t mean that we can’t come back and make our move.”
Stony Brook moves on to face second seeded Vermont at Patrick Gym on Sunday, while the Bearcats finish the season 6-26 in Dempsey’s third season.
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.