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Stony Brook seniors celebrate winning tradition

Stony Brook guard Leonard Hayes drives the ball

Stony Brook guard Leonard Hayes drives the ball as Albany guard Peter Hooley defends him during a game at Pritchard Gymnasium. (March 3, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Senior Day can be awkward at times because the starting lineup changes to accommodate everyone who dedicated themselves to the program in whatever role they were asked to play. So, Tommy Brenton, who is Stony Brook’s player of the year candidate in the America East, was joined by reserves Marcus Rouse, Lenny Hayes and Ron Bracey to start the game along with rookie of the year candidate Jameel Warney.

It wasn’t the greatest defensive performance of the season by a longshot as the Seawolves, who came in ranked second in Division I field goal defense (.368) allowed Albany to shoot 56.5 percent from the field. But all four seniors had excellent games and ultimately pulled out a 75-70 victory with a defensive stand in the final six minutes.

“Our seniors won the game for us today,” said coach Steve Pikiell, momentarily setting aside the team-high 17-point contribution of freshman Carson Puriefoy III. “They’ve been great. It’s the winningest senior class in school history, and we broke a school record today with the most Division I wins in a season (23). It’s all because of these guys.

“They’re unselfish, great kids on and off the court. They’ve all had to sacrifice. They happen to all play the same position which is tough sometimes for minutes for guys, but you saw they were ready to play. Some of our other guys, I’m not so sure they were ready to play the way this group of guys was. So, I’m real proud of these guys. It’s been a great season, and now we’re into the next [tournament] season.”

Brenton struggled to get his shot but still wound up with six points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Bracey had six of his nine points in the second half, hitting a jumper to stop a 12-0 Albany run and later hitting a jumper that gave the Seawolves the lead for good at 66-65 with 4:02 left. Hayes had eight points, making his only two shots from three-point range and adding two foul shots in as many attempts, and Rouse added eight points, four assists, three steals and some solid defense.

“There was definitely a lot of emotion before the game, but once the jump ball went up, we all had the same focus like we do for every other game of the season,” Brenton said. “Us four right here led the way, made shots, played defense and communicated. It was a good win.”

For Hayes, it was a confidence-building shooting game. “It was the last regular-season game before the tournament, and you just want to get yourself feeling good,” he said. “We wanted to start the game the right way, and I knocked down the first shot. That was a bonus.”

Bracey has been a source of instant offense in key moments for the Seawolves, and he certainly provided timely shooting against the great Danes. “I just wait until my number is called,” Bracey said. Focusing on the jumper he hit to stop Albany’s momentum, he added, “The shot, I just reacted to whatever the defense was. It’s just being ready.”

As the game tightened in the second half and Stony Brook fought back from 10 down, Rouse and Puriefoy used their speed on the perimeter to get after Albany guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati, who had 17 points apiece. They forced them into some tough shots at the end when the Great Danes went 1 for 7 from the field and committed three turnovers in the final six minutes when the Seawolves’ trademark defense finally kicked in.

“That’s just who we are, a defensive-minded team,” Brenton said. “It was about time. For the first [34 minutes], we didn’t do it, so, I guess we did it for the last [six]. Defense is always our go-to play. Offense will help you, but defense will win you games. Hopefully, we can do it for 40 minutes next weekend.”

Of course, Brenton was referring to the conference tournament in Albany, where the Seawolves open with eighth-seeded Binghamton at 6 p.m. Saturday and play the late semifinal on Sunday against the winner of Albany-Maine with a chance to host the conference title game on March 16 at stake.

Earning the league’s automatic NCAA bid is the one goal that has eluded Stony Brook, but the school has won three of the past four regular-season titles, which is a great feat. Asked if he imagined achieving anything like that when he first enrolled, Rouse seemed caught off guard as he hesitated before answering.

Brenton jumped in and said, “I hope you imagined it.”

With a laugh, Rouse said, “I mean, yeah, I wanted to come in and win, being a former champion in high school [DeMatha Catholic outside Baltimore]. I expected to come in and keep winning championships, and that’s three championships in four seasons.”

Just one more hill to climb to become the first Seawolves team to reach the NCAA Division I tournament.

As Pikiell said of the conference tournament games that have meant heartbreak the past three seasons with an upset loss in the 2010 semifinals and finals losses the past two seasons, “There’s no do-overs now.”