If anyone in the world admires Stony Brook's basketball team and its leaders more than Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell, it's Albany coach Will Brown. The Great Danes' valiant upset bid in the America East semifinals on Sunday couldn't have ended in more heart-breaking fashion for Albany than it did when Stony Brook's Dallis Joyner tipped in a missed shot with .4 seconds remaining to give SBU a 57-55 win.
As Brown said after the game, "Our locker room is a mess. Guys are distraught."
After getting swept by the Seawolves during the regular season, the Great Danes wanted another shot, and they nearly pulled off the upset with 11-of-20 three-point shooting. But it was appropriate that Stony Brook won with an offensive rebound and a putback because they dominated the boards, 45-26, including 22-6 on the offensive glass.
"Congratulations to Stony Brook," Brown said. "They were the best team through the regular season. They're different than every other team in this league because they're so physical. They've got men across the board up front. I thought we could win if we rebounded, but it was 45-26. We lost to the best team in the league, and they're going to prove it next week."
Brown was referring to Stony Brook's date in the conference championship game against Vermont at 11 a.m. Saturday in Stony Brook Arena. The winner of that game gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which would be a first in SBU history.
Brown lauded the leadership of Stony Brook seniors Joyner (pictured) and Bryan Dougher and redshirt junior Tommy Brenton, who was part of the same incoming class. He felt that made the difference at the end of the game when Joyner had the presence of mind to tip the ball in after the shot clock went off and just before the game clock expired.
"Joyner is a senior," Brown said. "Their seniors were playing with a sense of urgency. They were playing for their careers."
You could see it in the second half after Albany took a five-point lead and then made the Seawolves miss 11 straight shots while the Danes clung to a 44-43 lead. After Albany went five in front, Brenton scored on a putback, forced a turnover at the other end then fed Joyner for a layup the cut the deficit to 42-41. Then came Stony Brook's dry stretch, but Joyner scored six of Stony Brook's final 14 points, including a layup for a 55-52 lead off a feed from Brenton.
Brown always has expressed his admiration for Brenton's toughness, and he did again after the loss. "Brenton is awesome," Brown said. "He's an undersized kid who rips your heart out."
Nobody knows that better than Pikiell, who said, "Tommy made a lot of plays down the stretch, and Dallis finished. We really attacked the glass."
Now, the Seawolves get to play for the NCAA bid at home. They were 13-0 this season in tiny Pritchard Gym, but the game will be moved to larger Stony Brook Arena, which must be refurbished in a week's time. Pikiell isn't worried about the change of scenery.
"It's great for the community and great for our university," Pikiell said. "It will be a great environment. We'll be ready to play, and we will defend and rebound."
Joyner, Brenton and Dougher will see to that as the toughest team in the America East fights to make school history.