ALBANY -- Stony Brook's ill-fated quest for its first NCAA Tournament berth is beginning to feel like a sad country song. Over the past four seasons, the Seawolves have won three America East regular-season titles and reached the conference final the other time, but they keep taking painful detours down dead-end streets.
Heartbreak, the Seawolves' old friend, showed up again right on cue in the America East semifinals Sunday night at SEFCU Arena on Albany's campus. The fourth-seeded Great Danes were wearing their road uniforms, but that was their fans rushing the court at the end of their 61-59 upset of top-seeded Stony Brook.
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The Seawolves overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 3:47 to forge a tie at 59, but Albany point guard Mike Black drove past freshman Carson Puriefoy III for the winning layup with 2.4 seconds left.
Stony Brook's Dave Coley -- who had hit two free throws to tie the score with 14.3 seconds left -- took the inbounds pass near midcourt and got off a desperation 30-footer in time, but it was wide right.
It was a gut-wrenching finish for the Seawolves (24-7) after the best season in their Division I history. And it came on the heels of a semifinal loss to Boston University as the top seed in 2010, a two-point loss in the final at BU as the fifth seed in 2011 and last year's loss to Vermont in the final at home.
"This is the best team I've coached in 21 years," SBU coach Steve Pikiell said. "We were two points short . . . We got good looks we normally make, but our offense didn't help us. I thought if we could get it to overtime that eventually we'd make shots."
Albany's defense forced Stony Brook into a miserable 33.3 percent shooting performance, and the Great Danes (23-10) built a 52-42 lead. But the Seawolves put together a 17-7 run, tying it at 59 on Coley's free throws. Puriefoy was the offensive catalyst, scoring eight of his team-high 16 points in that stretch.
But Black, who led the Great Danes with 16 points, then faked as if he planned to go around a screen and drove past Puriefoy from the right side to make an acrobatic layup. "If Coley had helped, I would have kicked it out," Black said. "But he didn't, and I beat my man."
Coley was occupied in the right corner with Albany guard Jacob Iati, who had 14 points, including two threes and a ridiculous high-arching floater late in the second half. "I was told not to help off the corner threes," Coley said. "Iati had been hitting corner threes all day."
The Great Danes -- who will face Vermont in the conference championship game Saturday in Burlington, Vt. -- made eight of 18 three-point attempts to beat back repeated Stony Brook comeback attempts. The Seawolves got 15 points from Coley and 10 from Jameel Warney, who crashed to the floor when his shot was blocked midway through the second half and wasn't as effective after that.
SBU's Tommy Brenton, the America East player of the year, again struggled offensively. He scored only one point in a quarterfinal win and finished with six against Albany to go with 12 rebounds. rebounds. But it was Brenton's first field goal of the tournament, a layup with 3:47 left, that began the run that wiped out the 10-point deficit.
Too late to avoid the familiar frustration.
"I love my team," Pikiell said. "You can see we're going to be good in the future."
Referring to the Seawolves' automatic NIT bid as a regular-season champion, he added, "I'm disappointed for the university, but we have three postseason bids in four years . . . Someday when we do get to that NCAA Tournament, people will realize how difficult it is. We'll get there."