ALBANY - Hello heartbreak, Stony Brook's old friend.
Albany's Peter Hooley, the most outstanding player in last year's title win, made it two in a row over the Seawolves by banging home a three-pointer with 1.6 seconds left for a 51-50 America East championship victory and the automatic NCAA bid on Saturday at SEFCU Arena.
It was an absolute crusher for the Seawolves (23-11), who lost in this game for the fourth time in the past five years and still are waiting for the school's first NCAA invitation. Sentimentalists can't help but feel good for Hooley, who missed several weeks of the season to be at home in Australia with his dying mother, Sue. But emotions were as low as they could go on Stony Brook's side.
"Nobody feels sorry for you when you lose," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. "We were 10 seconds away . . . Everyone will analyze it, but if that shot goes out, we win and everyone is happy. To be one point away is tough to take, but we've gotten off the mat before and we'll do it again."
Jameel Warney, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, pointed to Stony Brook's 10-for-19 effort at the foul line compared to Albany's 12-for-15 performance. Warney missed two foul shots with 1:33 left and Carson Puriefoy III, who had 23 points and six rebounds, missed the second of two with 16.9 seconds left. Puriefoy and Warney shot 15-for-28 between them from the field, but their supporting cast managed only seven points and shot 2-for-19.
"At the end of the day, it's free throws," Warney said. "We missed nine, and they only missed three."
Puriefoy is well-acquainted with Stony Brook's demons. He was beaten on the game-winning layup by Albany in the 2013 semifinals here, and Hooley hit the clinching three-pointer over him in last year's title game at Pritchard Gym.
This was the latest chapter for Puriefoy, who had a great game but committed a turnover with 59.8 seconds left and had to watch Hooley shoot over onrushing Kam Mitchell after Albany's Ray Sanders missed a wild layup with four seconds left.
The rebound was batted out to Hooley at the top of the arc, and his three-pointer was the only one the Great Danes made in 10 attempts. "The ball just took a crazy bounce . . . to Hooley and he hit a tough shot," Puriefoy said. "We didn't box out on that final possession, and we paid for it.
"We played 39 great minutes and lost it at the end. It's definitely tough."
Puriefoy got the ensuing inbounds pass but lost the handle without getting off a final shot.
Per their usual practice in these situations, the Seawolves' shooting touch was in the deep freeze early. They made only two of their first 16 shots and scored only four points in the first 11:54, but their defense was so good that the Great Danes (24-8) had only a 10-4 lead.
As bad as the Seawolves' 32.0 percent first-half shooting was, Albany's 20.7 mark was worse as first-team all-conference players Sam Rowley and Evan Singletary totaled two points and 0-for-12 shooting. Warney led a 16-6 run for a 20-16 Stony Brook halftime lead.
Warney was hot early in the second half, even hitting a left-handed jumper at one point. Albany coach Will Brown switched to a 2-3 zone defense to limit his touches and Puriefoy -- who had 21 points in the final 20:10, including 14 of the Seawolves' final 15 -- torched it.
Puriefoy's three-pointer gave the Seawolves their biggest lead at 41-33 with 6:16 left. That was about the point where SBU went cold last year with a six-point lead. But this time, as Albany fought back, Puriefoy parried with two more three-pointers and a pair of foul shots for a 49-42 lead with 1:56 left.
But Warney missed two foul shots with 1:33 left and Sam Rowley scored a second-chance basket to cut the Seawolves' lead to 49-46 at 1:01. Then the Seawolves' demons distracted Puriefoy as he let the inbounds pass go through his hands and out of bounds with 59.8 seconds left. "It was just a mental mistake," he said.
Warney's fourth foul put Mike Rowley at the line with 21.7 seconds left, and his two foul shots cut Stony Brook's lead to 49-48. The Seawolves struggled to inbound the ball, but Puriefoy was fouled with 16.9 seconds left. He made the first but, as his cursed luck would have it, missed the second.
A few moments later, the angels were singing again for Hooley and the Great Danes, leaving Pikiell to defend his model program against the critics.
"I was proud of them," he said of his players. "I wouldn't trade that group . . . They give it every day and they represent our school the right way and they do everything right. They deserve to win, and we were five seconds short of that goal."