STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The Seawolves appeared to take the Hawks best punch in the first half on Monday night and found a way to counter.
Carson Puriefoy, who was held to just three points in the first half, scored 19 in the second half to lead all scorers as Stony Brook clinched their spot in the championship game against Vermont on Saturday.
“I was disappointed in myself in the first half, I thought I didn’t play well and I just wanted to come out in the second half and be aggressive and help my teammates out,” Puriefoy said. “I thought they carried me in the first half and sometimes that’s what needs to be done, your teammates pick you up when you’re down and that’s what they did in the first half, and tried to just be aggressive in the second half.”
Jalen Ross, who seemingly carried the Hawks at times, finished with 21 points. Junior Pancake Thomas finished with 18 points.
Hartford, who as the conference’s seventh seed beat Albany on Wednesday night, came out fast and loose and challenged the Seawolves to beat them through their zone. Stony Brook responded by breaking out to an eight point lead in the first half before the Hawks stormed back and Ross’ three-pointer tied the game at 31. However, Lucas Woodhouse drilled a three-pointer on the next possession and after two free throws from the Longwood transfer two possessions later, the Seawolves marched into halftime with a five point lead.
In the second half it was Puriefoy and plays like Kam Mitchell’s three-pointer near the Seawolves bench to put them up 12 that helped ice the game and close off any chance for the Hawks to come back.
Jameel Warney finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, after receiving a few touches in the first half, he scored 14 second half points.
“We know what we’re capable of and if we just play how we always play, we have a good chance of winning,” Warney said.
This is hardly an unfamiliar place for the Seawolves: they enter a Saturday morning meeting with the Catamounts, who beat New Hampshire 63-56 later in the night. This will be the first time they play the championship game at Island Federal Credit Union Arena since it’s renovation.
“I’m excited, it’s a blessing to continue to play with these guys, it’s one more game I get to play and share with these guys,” Ray McGrew, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, said. “It’s also another chance to compete for something we always wanted.”
With that come the turmoils this group has had to endure. In each of the last two seasons Stony Brook has made the championship, finishing short at home in 2013 and on a buzzer beater last season. The program has never been to the NCAA tournament in its Division I history and have fallen short: Hooley’s buzzer beater last year was about as close as the Seawolves have been. The lessons from those experiences carry on with players like Warney.
“The power of one possession,” Warney said was the lesson from their past championship games. “Just play your heart out every possession because that play, that you don’t go 100 percent on, could be the game changer.”
Added Puriefoy, “We know what to expect, we’ve been there before, we’re a battle tested group, so I think we’ve been through every situation this season that there is to be through. We’re extremely confident going in, we just have to play our game and we can get it done.”
The week continues on, albeit shorter this time with the semifinal games being played on Monday night, but head coach Steve Pikiell knows it will be a long week until that America East championship game.
“Not a lot of sleep and just, it’ll be exciting,” Pikiell said as to what his next few days will be like.
Pikiell is excited to turn the new page, as for what the last few times with this group he’s learned, it’s easy for him to throw it out the window.
“It’s a new game, it’s a new team, it’s a new venue, it’s everything’s new,” Pikiell said. “This year whoever we play will be different, I want the guys to have fun.”
“It’s tough, you got to try to win the game by one, it’s tough. The other team really wants to win, I don’t know if people realize that, the other team is pretty good and they want to win, so you got to play really good basketball and everything matters. A whistle could matter, at tip in could matter, a missed free throw could matter and that’s what these games come down to. So the past, we got a new team Lucas didn’t play last year, Ahmad [Walker] didn’t play last year, so you got new guys on the floor for our team and I think our veteran guys are better, smarter and have been around a little bit more, so we’re very different than we were last year.”
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.