If anyone could appreciate what UMass-Lowell is going through in its first season as a Division I basketball program, it is Stony Brook. The Seawolves have been through those growing pains and still play in the raucous intimacy of Pritchard Gymnasium, the sort of place the likes of UMass-Lowell know very well.
So Stony Brook was not in the least surprised that the visitor was unfazed by the acoustics or anything else. "We knew they were a tough team and they were going to come out with nothing to lose," Jameel Warney said after SBU hung on for a knot-in-the-stomach 70-65 win.
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The Seawolves remained perfect (4-0) in America East play despite an imperfect game. They appreciated the effort that UMass-Lowell put in and even appreciated the struggle.
"That was one of those games that you're nervous about as a coach, but we figured out a way to win and that's a good sign for us," Steve Pikiell said. "We've won games by a lot and sometimes that doesn't help you. These games make you a little tougher."
Come March, Stony Brook (12-6) might be able to summon the confidence it showed when the upstart team -- a familiar opponent back in the 1990s before Stony Brook went Division I -- came within 61-59 on a layup by New York City resident Kerry Weldon with 1:06 remaining.
Stony Brook can reflect on the play that Ahmad Walker made with 51 seconds left, catching a pass, making a layup, drawing a foul and completing a three-point play to make it 64-59. "Carson [Puriefoy], he had a lane to the basket. He drove, the defense collapsed on him," Walker said. "I take pride in my cuts and I cut to the basket and once he found me, I just tried my best to finish the play."
That contributed to a career-high 18-point night for Walker, a redshirt freshman who grew up in Port Washington and played for St. Dominic. "I felt eventually I would have a breakout game," he said. "I'm just thankful because my teammates have helped me throughout the process of moving from high school to Division I."
UMass-Lowell (4-12, 3-2) is making that transition as a team, and doing it well. The River Hawks were coming off a win over Albany, which earned the America East's berth in the NCAA Tournament last season. They went right down to the wire Saturday night although their top scorer, Akeem Williams, fouled out after playing only 12 minutes.
"I have no complaints. My guys played their tails off," said coach Pat Duquette, whose brother Jim used to be general manager of the Mets. Of Stony Brook, he said, "They've been through this."
The Seawolves had just enough savvy to pull it out, with Dave Coley sinking four free throws and Puriefoy two in the final 27 seconds. Warney (14 points, 10 rebounds) did all the right things down the stretch, Puriefoy added 14 points and seven assists and Coley had 10 points.
All told, it brought Pikiell's career record at Stony Brook to 132-132 -- quite an achievement, considering he started 4-24. "It's hard to get wins in Division I basketball," he said. "Sometimes it looks pretty, sometimes you have to grind them, sometimes you have to steal them. But it's hard to get them."