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Albany counters Pritchard's March Madness by staying calm

Albany celebrates their 69-60 win as Stony Brook

Albany celebrates their 69-60 win as Stony Brook guard Carson Puriefoy and guard Kameron Mitchell walk off the court at the end of the America East Tournament championship men's basketball game in Stony Brook on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A joyful shudder went through the jam-packed stands at Pritchard Gym. The Seawolves finally (finally!) had recaptured a decent lead and Sam Rowley, Albany's leading scorer Saturday with 18 points, had just fouled out with 7:02 left. And the booming fan base in Stony Brook's sardine can arena was dizzy with dreams of an NCAA Tournament bid.

Can you feel the tension? The excitement?

Albany sure couldn't.

"Everything was on them,'' point guard DJ Evans said after the Great Danes' 69-60 win in the America East championship game Saturday. "The coaches did a great job of preparing us . . . At practice, we had speakers set up. We definitely knew it was going to be loud today.''

Added coach Will Brown: "Regardless of the score or the atmosphere, stay the course. Weather the storm. The closer this game was later in the game, the tighter I thought they would be and the more relaxed and loose I thought we would be."

Finally, a word from the man of the waning minutes -- tournament MVP Peter Hooley, who recovered from a blow to the noggin to hit a three-pointer for a 61-56 lead. He said assistant coach Jeremy "Friel said the knock on the head meant the next one was going to go in. He was right . . . We were feeling confident we could weather the storm.''

If the Great Danes seemed almost preternaturally calm in the face of winning their second straight America East championship in a notoriously unwelcoming place, it's because they were.

They fell under Pritchard's spell 13 days earlier, losing to Stony Brook by five after holding a 10-point second-half lead, and Brown knew that the second time around, the key would be to just r-e-l-a-x.

"It's easier said than done,'' Brown said. "We had to use some Jedi mind tricks. We had to brainwash these guys.''

For them, that meant opening practice with trick shot drills -- over-the-shoulder threes, sky hooks from the three-point line, shooting from the knees, bounce threes. "That was tough for me to do,'' Brown said. "I didn't want them to get too loose, but they embraced it.''

The sentiment eventually filtered down to Brown, who admitted to having nightmares about SBU's Carson Puriefoy the night before. With the game on the line, though, he became downright Zen -- reinserting Rowley despite his four fouls with 7:20 left and a 51-46 deficit, and letting the game end as it may.

"It was obvious we needed him,'' Brown said. "And if he fouled out with seven or six minutes left, maybe it wasn't meant to be . . . and when he fouled out, I made a commitment that Hooley got a touch with every possession . . . and if he banks another five threes, maybe it wasn't meant to be.''

He even let one of his players, the oft-injured Luke Devlin, do most of the talking during timeouts. "It would be easy to say I did a Lombardi speech every time out,'' Brown said, "but I let Luke talk before I talked.''

It all turned out to be an inspired tactic. For all the feverish shaking and all the deafening noise of the day, it was the calm silence that won out.

New York Sports