Rayshaun McGrew found triumph in his sea of tragedy on Saturday.
The Stony Brook senior tri-captain got crushing news by telephone only about an hour before the Seawolves’ game against unbeaten Princeton: His mother had passed away. Her fight against breast cancer was over.
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The 6-7 swingman was devastated when he told coach Steve Pikiell, but he would not accept his offer to be excused. He found the strength to compose himself and turned in an inspiring 18-point, seven-rebound performance to lead SBU to a 91-77 win before 3,187 at IFCU Arena.
Jameel Warney had 26 points and 15 rebounds for his 12th straight double-double dating to last season. He shot 11-for-14 and added nine blocked shots and five assists. Roland Nyama scored 15 points, all in the second half, and Bryan Sekunda added 12 on four three-pointers as the Seawolves (4-2) won their third straight. Henry Caruso and Devin Cannady scored 16 apiece for the Tigers (4-1).
“My sister actually called me right before the shootaround,” McGrew said. “[Pikiell] asked me if I was still able to play the game, but I didn’t want to let the team down . . . We’d worked hard all week. I didn’t just want to throw it all away and not be able to help my team win. So I played for her.”
He had known that Ineater McGrew was losing her fight. It was going badly enough that he missed the season opener last month to be with her. But he never imagined it would come this soon. Still, he gathered himself because he knew it was what she would have wanted.
Said McGrew, “The last words she told me before I left home was ‘go out there and get back on track.’ Those were the words and they always flew through my head, every practice and every game I played.”
He decided he would play for her. He scrawled “RIP” on the back of his left sneaker and “MaMa” on the back of his right. Then he shot 8-for-10 from the floor after making his first six shots. When he finally missed a jump shot with 15:32 to play, he followed it and tipped it out of the scrum to Warney for a layup.
“It was incredible. I am proud of how Ray played today,” Warney said. “He didn’t have to play, but he felt focused on the team . . . It’s a great thing he did [and] he just told us as a group after the game. We’re there to support him.”
Pikiell said he has had players deal with personal tragedies “but never right before tip-off,” he said.
Stony Brook shot 19-for-26 (73.1 percent) from the floor in the first half and opened a 41-30 lead, but less than two minutes into the second half, the Seawolves’ lead was almost gone. Spencer Weisz’ three-pointer moved the Tigers within 41-39.
Nyama, who shot 10-for-11 from the free-throw line in the second half, had six points in an 11-0 run to make it 58-44. Princeton never got closer than 69-62 after that.
For the game, Stony Brook shot 33-for-52 from the floor (63.5 percent) and 7-for-11 from three-point range, went 18-for-21 from the free-throw line and had 26 assists, with four players picking up five each. Longwood transfer and Harborfields High School product Lucas Woodhouse had six points and five assists in 31 key minutes off the bench.
But after the game, the Seawolves’ locker room was somber as the news about McGrew’s mother spread.
“Ray didn’t have to play in the game today. He wanted to play,” Pikiell said. “It’s a sad day and an awful event when a parent passes away. He just played great. He played for her.”