For a while, it seemed as if Stony Brook was playing Golden State and Steph Curry, not eighth-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County and unconscious three-point bomber Will Darley. But the top-seeded Seawolves overcame their own awful foul shooting and rode on the shoulders of three-time America East player of the year Jameel Warney to pull out an 86-76 victory in a quarterfinal playoff game Wednesday night at Island FCU Arena.
The Retrievers (7-25) were ahead by eight points in the first half and led six times in the second half, but Warney wouldn’t let the Seawolves (24-6) lose. He had 12 points during a 19-10 run as they built an 80-72 lead, and Warney finished with 27 points and a career-high 23 rebounds.
It was one heck of a scare on a night when second-seeded Albany, which eliminated Stony Brook the past three years in the conference tournament, was upset by seventh-seeded Hartford, 68-59. But SBU survived and advanced to a Monday night semifinal at home against the upstart Hawks (10-22).
As for the challenge UMBC offered, Warney said, “They’re a tremendous offense. They’re one of the most dangerous teams we’ve played even though they’re a low seed. They made crazy shots in the first half. I don’t know how they did it, but we found a way to keep on pushing and win.”
Warney got great support from Carson Puriefoy III (18 points, five assists), Lucas Woodhouse (17) and Ahmad Walker (13, four assists), but the Seawolves made only 27 of 50 foul shots. Although UMBC had leading America East scorer Jairus Lyles (22 points, 10 rebounds), Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell worried beforehand about the rest of the Retrievers’ weapons, saying they had “outliers.”
The 6-8 Darley, who is listed as a guard, turned into the all-time outlier, scoring the last 13 points in a 17-8 run that gave the Retrievers a 27-22 lead. Then Darley backed up to Curry range, hitting three more NBA-length threes to push UMBC’s lead to a high of 43-35. At that point, Darley had made eight straight shots and had 24 points.
That’s when Pikiell switched 6-5 wingman Walker to cover Darley, who missed his next two shots as the Seawolves closed the half with a 9-0 run to take a 44-43 lead. “I’ve never seen a kid shoot like that in a long time,” Pikiell said. “Ahmad did a good job once we switched up. We had to try something. Ahmad was a good matchup, and we stayed with it.”
Walker limited Darley to eight second-half points, but the UMBC star hit a three with 3:49 left that cut Stony Brook’s lead to 72-71. Warney was fouled and missed two shots, but got his own rebound and scored. He followed that up with another layup as the Seawolves began to build the cushion that would carry them to victory.
Woodhouse also played a key role with his 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range, including one in the 9-0 run that ended the first half, to help counter what Darley was doing. “Everything he put up was going in,” Woodhouse said, “but we weathered the storm in the first half very well.”
There was no mistaking the Seawolves’ sense of urgency when UMBC threatened to bring an unthinkable end to a great season. “We know every game could be our last,” Puriefoy said. “We executed down the stretch, and we’ve got to keep doing that.”