Misstep a source of motivation for Stony Brook's Carson Puriefoy III
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It happened in a flash. Albany guard Mike Black leaned left for a split-second, as if preparing to go around a screen, and Stony Brook defender Carson Puriefoy III rocked back just enough to allow Black to drive to his right for the winning basket in the Great Danes' America East semifinal upset of the Seawolves a year ago.
"I actually have a picture of that play on my lock screen on my phone to motivate me," Puriefoy said. "I saw it on Google. They took a picture of me guarding him with 10 seconds left. It's a motivation thing I had from the beginning of the season until now. Yeah, that play has stuck in my mind from last year. It stuck in all of our heads. It's a big motivation factor."
Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said that was one of many mistakes made in that game and hardly the deciding factor. "They made one more play than we did," he said. "We wouldn't have been in a place to win that game without Puriefoy's 16 points. He was great in the game."
One year later, it was Puriefoy who drove for the clinching basket with 10 seconds left in a semifinal win over Hartford, giving the Seawolves (23-9) a chance for redemption against Albany (17-14) in the America East championship game at 11:30 Saturday morning at Pritchard Gymnasium. A victory would earn SBU its first NCAA Tournament berth.
In his sophomore season, Puriefoy has turned into a difference-maker. After Albany's loss at Stony Brook in the regular-season finale, coach Will Brown said his team pulls back the pressure defense against Puriefoy because he attacks with speed that makes defenders look as if they're orange pylons.
"Most teams don't like to pressure me because one of the best parts of my game is being able to go by defenders and get in the lane and create for my teammates," Puriefoy said. "They like to make me shoot over their defenders or try to dissect them with passes."
Pikiell noted that Puriefoy can make the outside shot, but the coach really appreciates his ability to handle the contact he'll get from a super-physical Albany team.
"He's [eighth] in the league in getting to the free-throw line," Pikiell said. "He causes contact. He's fast, and with the new rules, it's hard to get a charge. He's playing some good basketball right now."
In Stony Brook's wins over Maine and Hartford to reach the America East title game, Puriefoy averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. He also was knocked to the floor repeatedly, much like one of his two basketball idols, Allen Iverson.
Puriefoy's No. 1 role model was Carson Puriefoy II, his father and an outstanding point guard for Bucknell from 1981-84 on a team with current Villanova coach Jay Wright. As Pikiell said jokingly, "It's great DNA."
Indeed, the elder Puriefoy began teaching his son the fundamentals at age 4. "We knew he'd play the point guard position so we always spent time on that," Carson II said. "I'm as proud as a father could be. I want him to get what he wants, which is that NCAA bid."
Growing up in Wenonah, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia, Puriefoy was a 76ers fan who attended games on his dad's season tickets. "I had my Iverson jersey," Puriefoy said. "I'd like to think my game is a little bit like his."
Like Iverson, Puriefoy seeks contact, and he knows Albany -- "the most physical team in the league" -- will oblige. The Great Danes reached the final by roughing up a top-seeded Vermont team that was 15-1 in conference regular-season play.
"Our biggest fear going into this game is how we're going to deal with Albany's physicality on the backboards and on the defensive end," Puriefoy said. "We saw how they killed Vermont on the glass.
"Our mindset going in is that we have to fight back. We can't just let them bully us around the gym. I think we can handle it, especially in Pritchard with our fans."
Two years ago, the Seawolves hosted the title game in virtually a neutral setting on a temporary court in Stony Brook Arena. Puriefoy attended as a recruit and saw Vermont win a defensive struggle. This time there's a comfort level in 1,630-seat Pritchard Gym, where the Seawolves are 23-1 in conference games in the past three seasons.
"We have an advantage in Pritchard," Puriefoy said. "It's a small venue. Our fans are going to be there screaming their heads off. It's going to be a great atmosphere."