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For fourth time in five years, Stony Brook hopes to take final step toward NCAA berth

Stony Brook Seawolves guard/forward Roland Nyama is greeted

Stony Brook Seawolves guard/forward Roland Nyama is greeted by a teammate during a timeout against UMBC in the second half of an NCAA Division I men's basketball game at Island FCU Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ALBANY - Selection Sunday is just around the corner, and for the fourth time in the past five seasons, Stony Brook is knocking on the NCAA Tournament door, trying to get in for the first time with a victory in the America East championship game.

In 2011, the Seawolves suffered a two-point loss at Boston University as a fifth seed. In 2012, their shooting touch deserted them in a home loss to Vermont. Last year, they blew a six-point lead in the final seven minutes of a home loss to Albany.

At 11 Saturday morning, Stony Brook (23-10) gets a rematch with Albany (23-8) at SEFCU Arena on the Albany campus in a game televised on ESPN2.

The Great Danes are 4-0 in America East title games and the Seawolves are 0-3, but SBU was the only team to defeat Albany in conference play this season and did it a month ago at SEFCU Arena.

Before the hand-wringing begins for Seawolves fans, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell stepped back from the precipice to offer some perspective on what his program has achieved in a one-bid league. "It's hard to get back to this game," he said. "We were able to fight through all those obstacles and get back."

Those obstacles included a comeback from a 16-point deficit last Sunday at Vermont, where the Seawolves had lost five straight by an average of 16 points.

Pikiell has managed the growth of a team that includes freshman starters Roland Nyama and Deshaun Thrower with core juniors Jameel Warney (the America East player of the year), Carson Puriefoy III and Rayshaun McGrew, plus a bench that includes three freshmen who see limited minutes.

"I'm so proud of this group," Pikiell said. "Albany has been very good for a long time and it's a tough place to play, but we've gotten through a lot of obstacles with a whole new team."

Albany features senior forward Sam Rowley and a junior guard combination of Peter Hooley (who was named most outstanding player in last season's title game), Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders. They are led by America East coach of the year Will Brown.

As the top two rebounding teams in the conference, it figures to be a physical battle.

"There's pressure every year," Warney said of the NCAA pressure that bears down on the Seawolves, including the freshmen who will be experiencing it for the first time. "You just have to deal with it. Me and Tre [Puriefoy], our leadership is keeping everybody cool.

"They don't know what happened last year, and they shouldn't care because they weren't a part of that. Now it's their chance to make history and for this team to make history."

No one is more aware of the drumbeat of expectations than Pikiell, but he also values the sustained level of success his program already has achieved.

"I'm glad we're back in this position again," he said. "This team is very confident. [Albany has its] home crowd and all those things going, but we're playing pretty good basketball right now, too.

"When we're good enough to win, we will.''

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