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Seawolves avoid Albany in AE tourney

Stony Brook's Jameel Warney drives the lane for

Stony Brook's Jameel Warney drives the lane for two against Albany's John Puk in a game, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Credit: George A. Faella

Last season, No. 1 Stony Brook’s regular-season-ending victory over Albany was a double-edged sword because it dropped the Great Danes to the No. 4 seed and set up an ill-fated meeting in the conference tournament semifinals at SEFCU Arena on the UAlbany campus. A two-point semifinals loss ended the Seawolves’ NCAA tournament hopes.

But this year, the Seawolves (21-9, 13-3 America East) are the No. 2 seed, so it paid to beat Albany, 73-68, Sunday afternoon at Pritchard Arena. Once again, the Danes (15-14, 9-7) dropped to No. 4, which puts them in the same half of the bracket as No. 1 Vermont (21-9, 15-1), which would get to play a true road game in next Sunday night’s semifinals if both win their quarterfinal games.

At first, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell downplayed the significance of avoiding the Danes on their home court, saying, “Your good players have to play well.” But Pikiell then acknowledged, “You absolutely have an advantage at home. You look at their home record, and it’s not even close. You’ve got to have a good program, and they have that.”

Indeed, the Great Danes not only reached the championship game but went up to Vermont and won it to gain the automatic NCAA bid. Then, they gave a great account of themselves in a 73-61 loss to Duke in their opening NCAA game in the second round.

Assessing his team’s chances this year, Albany coach Will Brown said, “I think we’ll be a tough out no matter who we play.”

Vermont certainly can’t take the Danes lightly. If the Catamounts should stumble in the semis, Stony Brook would be in position to host the March 15 championship game provided it can get past Maine (6-22, 4-12) in the quarterfinals and the winner of the Hartford (16-15, 10-6)-UMBC (9-20, 5-11) game in the semifinals.

Sizing up the field, Brown said, “Vermont is the best team; Stony Brook is the most talented team, and we’re the team nobody wants to play.”

Brown said he plans to vote for Stony Brook forward Jameel Warney and guard Carson Puriefoy III as first team all-America East players and that Coley again belongs on the all-defensive team. He suggested the Seawolves’ top two scorers have struggled to overcome injuries – Warney has torn ligaments in his left thumb and Puriefoy missed some time with a groin injury.

But Brown added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Stony Brook won the league. The talent is good enough. I just hope we’re in the mix.” Noting the similarities to the way last season ended for the Danes, Brown said, “It’s identical. It’s karma. Our guys are disappointed in the loss, but we have momentum heading to the tournament.”

Well, it’s not quite identical for the Seawolves, who are fortunate to avoid playing a true road game in the conference tournament in the final year of that format. Next season, tournament games all will be played at the home of the highest-seeded team.

Stony Brook’s Pikiell thanked Brown for his compliments regarding Warney and Puriefoy but noted that the Seawolves dominated the postseason awards last season when Warney earned rookie of the year and Tommy Brenton was named player of the year and he got coach of the year. “We had every all-league thing last year, and it didn’t mean anything,” Pikiell said.

Asked if the Seawolves have played their best basketball yet, Pikiell said, “No. I hope it’s coming. We’re 21-9, 13-3. I’m pleased. We had a good year. I’m looking to have a great weekend.”

New York Sports