Seldom has a so-called "meaningless" game had such meaningful consequences -- good and bad -- as Stony Brook's pulsating 75-70 comeback victory over Albany Sunday at sold-out Pritchard Gymnasium.
On the positive side, the Seawolves (23-6, 14-2 America East) finished with the most wins in their Division I history and the four Senior Day celebrants -- Tommy Brenton (six points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Ron Bracey (nine points), Marcus Rouse (eight points, four assists) and Lenny Hayes (eight points) -- started and went out with a bang. Freshman Carson Puriefoy III added an electrifying glimpse of the future, scoring 15 of his 17 in the second half.
But because SBU previously had wrapped up its third conference title in four seasons and secured the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, a loss actually might have been better.
Albany (21-10, 9-7) dropped to fourth in the conference when Hartford (17-12, 10-6) beat Vermont on a three-pointer at the buzzer. If Stony Brook wins its first-round game over Binghamton (3-26, 1-15) and the Great Danes beat Maine (11-18, 6-10), the Seawolves will face host Albany in Sunday's semifinals.
Taking his cue perfectly after four years under coach Steve Pikiell, Hayes said, "First, we're looking at Binghamton." Pressed on the prospect of an Albany rematch, Hayes allowed, "It's going to be another tough game. They play physical and we play physical. But we're looking forward to Binghamton right now."
If nothing else, the Great Danes underlined exactly how fragile are Stony Brook's hopes of winning the conference tournament and earning the automatic NCAA bid for the first time in school history. Albany shot 56.5 percent and outrebounded SBU 26-22, effectively negating the champions' strengths.
Guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati were deadly from the perimeter with 17 points each and 7-for-13 three-point shooting. Sam Rowley added 10 and the Great Danes' frontcourt shot 15- for-23 collectively.
Black had six points in a 12-0 run that gave Albany its biggest lead at 46-36. That's when Puriefoy stepped up to lead his elders, scoring nine points in a 25-12 run that put SBU in front 61-58. That stretch began with Bracey hitting a jumper to end the Great Danes' run and ended with a three-pointer by Hayes and a layup by Brenton.
While Puriefoy rested, Albany went ahead 63-61 on a three-pointer by Iati with six minutes left, but Puriefoy returned to score six points in the Seawolves' 14-7 finishing kick. He and Rouse defended hard against Black and Iati, forcing Albany to shoot 1-for-7 in that span with three turnovers.
"Trey Puriefoy changed the pace of the game and gave us great energy," Pikiell said. "We've won a lot of games with defense, but tonight we won with offense. I don't like that feeling, but this year's team is capable of that. Last year's wasn't."
While the win over Albany made the path to the NCAA bid tougher, it also typified the winningest senior class in Stony Brook history. "We definitely were trying to have our best record," Hayes said. "We just wanted it for the record and the title and just to secure it."