For more than 23 minutes, Stony Brook played its best basketball of the season, building a 17-point lead over rival Vermont in a battle of America East unbeatens Friday night at Pritchard Gym in front of a sellout crowd of 1,630 and an ESPNU national audience.
But anyone who knows the Catamounts -- a team that lost by one point at Duke this season -- knows they don't give up the fight. The Seawolves went 6:27 between baskets in the second half as Vermont went on a 13-0 run, and Stony Brook eventually allowed the visitors to get within three with 2:21 left.
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That's when the Seawolves made a stand. They didn't score on their final five possessions, but neither did the Catamounts, and Stony Brook held on for a 67-64 victory.
"They're a great team," said Seawolves forward Jameel Warney, who had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, including two on back-to-back possessions in the final two minutes. "They almost beat Duke. We knew it would be a grind. We knew they'd make a run. Their run took most of the second half."
Vermont (11-9, 5-1) was the preseason favorite in the America East coaches' poll based on its all-senior starting five, but the Seawolves (14-6, 6-0) put together a 26-10 first-half run that included eight straight points from guard Anthony Jackson in his second game coming off the bench. Carson Puriefoy III replaced him in the starting lineup and had seven of his 11 points in that stretch.
The Seawolves built a 44-28 halftime lead, outrebounding the Catamounts 23-10 and building a 13-2 margin in second-chance points. But after falling behind 50-33 at the 16:31 mark of the second half, Vermont flipped the script, taking control of the boards and the paint.
Stony Brook held the five senior starters to 18 points and 6-for-27 shooting, but three Vermont reserves totaled 46 points. Ethan O'Day scored 10 of his 16 points in a 13-0 run that cut the deficit to 50-46. The Catamounts also got 17 from Hector Harold and 13 from Kurt Steidl.
O'Day was effective inside against Warney, who said, "It was a mental breakdown by me. He's a good finisher."
Warney responded with a layup to break the scoring drought with 10:04 left, and Jackson, who made all four three-point attempts and totaled 16 points, hit a pair from beyond the arc for a 58-49 lead. "That was very important," Jackson said. "We executed, and I hit wide-open shots."
Jackson and Warney totaled 14 of the Seawolves' last 17 points, including a 20-foot jumper by Jackson for a 67-62 lead with 2:39 left. Harold hit a jumper at the 2:21 mark to make it a three-point game, and it was a slugfest to the finish as Warney blocked shots by Steidl and O'Day.
"I just didn't want to lose," Warney said. "You've got to find a way to stop them. We weren't going to let them get an easy shot."
O'Day's desperation three-pointer from 35 feet -- a potential game-tying shot -- hit the front of the rim at the buzzer.
"We're tough," Jackson said.
So were the Catamounts.