Consider this the official rite of passage for all of Stony Brook’s new players and coaching staff. You’re not really one of the Seawolves until Albany breaks your heart, or at least your stride.
Stony Brook did not carry the expectations of recent seasons. Far from it. But it did have enough of a season to earn home court in the America East semifinal against the archrival from upstate. But that advantage, like Lucas Woodhouse’s 25-point total, was not enough to prevent a 63-56 loss to an old nemesis.
So Stony Brook’s defense of its America East title ended Monday night, but it lasted a lot longer than most people had anticipated. A team that had an almost completely new roster and staff had been picked to finish seventh in the standings. Instead, it placed second and nearly made it to March 7. The Seawolves did give it a go late in the second half, cutting a 13-point deficit to two. They just fell a bit short against an opponent that has a knack for knocking off Stony Brook.
“I think we exceeded expectations,” Woodhouse said. He caused the rafters to rattle at Island Federal Credit Union Arena, drawing a roar from the sellout crowd of 4,009 with a three-pointer that made the score 53-51 with 4:29 left. “In our inclusive group, we felt we could get back to the NCAA Tournament, but I think we did have a good overall season.”
The ending was not the punch-to-the-stomach devastating kind, like the one in which Albany scored with 2.4 seconds left to beat Stony Brook in a 2013 semifinal or Peter Hooley’s three-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining in the 2015 final. It hurt nonetheless.
“They were tougher than us today,” said Roland Nyama, who — unlike just about all of his teammates and coach Jeff Boals — was on the Stony Brook team for the Hooley Game. “They won the rebounding battle and that ultimately gave them more possessions and the win.”
It was a different context, yet still intense. For the first 19 minutes, neither side led by more than three. Then Albany ended the half on a 12-2 burst for an eight-point edge, capped by a three-pointer at the buzzer by Costa Anderson.
Stony Brook (18-13) never did catch up. True, it lost the rebounding struggle, 34-28. More to the point, the Seawolves shot 4-for-21 from three-point range. There was not the usual support for Woodhouse, the 6-3 senior point guard who had to work for every inch because he was closely guarded by 6-6 forward Devonte Campbell.
“He’s a very crafty player. He likes to change speeds. If Vermont wasn’t having a crazy year, he probably would have been player of the year,” said Campbell, who had 16 points to supplement the team-high 19 from David Nichols.
Will Brown, the former Miller Place and Dowling star who is head coach of Albany (21-12), said that when his team faced a loaded Stony Brook team last season, it barely guarded Woodhouse. “Last year he just needed to handle the ball and get out of the way. This year? Silent assassin, boy,” said Brown, who now will prepare for Saturday’s final against Vermont, which was 16-0 in the conference.
Woodhouse and Stony Brook would like to play in some postseason tournament. “I’m mad we couldn’t have gone out going back to the NCAA Tournament because that was our goal, but I built another lifelong relationship with Coach and my teammates,” said the high scorer from Greenlawn and Harborfields High.
The challenge for the Seawolves, though, is that they have a long-term relationship with Albany.
“Coming here, I knew the rivalry, I knew the history, especially in the tournament,” Boals said. “Give them credit. They came in here in a tough environment and were the better team today.”