WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - For a team that went 2-14 to finish dead last in the America East Conference this season, Albany entered its quarterfinal game against regular-season champion Stony Brook with considerable swagger. Who could blame the Great Danes? They had lost two down-to-the-wire games to the Seawolves this season.
"If there's any such thing as an eighth seed liking a seed against the No. 1 team," Albany coach Will Brown said, "it was us, because we played them tough."
Give the Great Danes credit for coming out swinging on their way to an early six-point lead yesterday. But at the final horn, you didn't have to look at the scoreboard to know who the winner was in Stony Brook's 68-59 victory at the University of Hartford's Chase Arena.
The Great Danes (7-25) wobbled away after taking their lumps, many of them dished out courtesy of Seawolves sophomore power forward Tommy Brenton, who owned the paint with 16 rebounds.
"No disrespect to them because they're a tremendous team, but we thought we had their number," Brown said. "And we thought wrong."
Word of the bold talk emanating from Albany during the week certainly reached Stony Brook. "They provided us with a little bulletin-board material, but we weren't focused on that," guard Bryan Dougher insisted. "We just wanted to play our game and win."
As coach Steve Pikiell keeps repeating, the Seawolves' game is defense and rebounding because they always know someone is going to score. On this day, they had four players in double figures. Chris Martin shot 1-for-9 but scored 12 of his 15 points at the foul line, Brenton had 13 and Dougher and Muhammad El-Amin added 12 each.
"Every time we've played Albany, it's been a war," Pikiell said. "One way they could beat us is getting second shots, rebounding, and we didn't let them do that."
Albany's Will Harris scored 12 of his team's first 20 points. But he cooled off, scoring only three the rest of the way, and often had to pick himself off the floor after colliding with Brenton or forward Dallis Joyner, who bothered nearly every Great Danes shot in the paint.
"Albany is big, so we knew they were going to come inside," Brenton said. "We had the pads out at practice just hitting each other in the post. It was going to be physical, and we looked forward to it."
Albany's Mike Black (17 points) scored his team's first eight points of the second half to forge a tie at 36. But Stony Brook stepped up its defense, producing a 25-9 run for its biggest lead at 61-45 with 4:01 to play.
Brown credited the Seawolves for playing hard, especially Brenton, who took one charge that left Black writhing in pain. "He's the America East's Bill Laimbeer," Brown said, comparing Brenton to the former Detroit Pistons agitator. "Nobody likes playing against him, but every coach would welcome him through their office door with open arms. He's the engine, in my mind."
Stony Brook (22-8) will face Boston University (18-12) in a semifinal at 5 p.m. today. BU beat Hartford, 87-46. "They were picked to win the league, and they've been playing the best basketball [recently]," Pikiell said of BU. "We have to rebound and use our depth. I was hoping they'd be tired, but that's not the case."
The Terriers didn't have to work very hard against Hartford, but they'd better wear their hard hats for Stony Brook.