DES MOINES, Iowa — The bittersweet taste that Stony Brook took home from its first NCAA Tournament game was a classic reminder of the old warning, “Be careful what you wish for.” When your dream finally comes true, you could have the likes of Kentucky waiting for you.
Kentucky was too big, quick, deep and savvy for the Seawolves in the late game Thursday night, winning 85-57 and at least temporarily taking some of the glow off Stony Brook’s greatest basketball achievement.
For years, all that the Seawolves wanted was to get into the tournament, but once they got there, they had the type of offensive cold spell that had kept them from getting there for so long.
That is another reason why they call it March Madness.
“It felt good to play hard, but I also feel there’s no moral victories. You’ve got to go out and play every game to win. We came up short,” junior guard Ahmad Walker said.
Not that there was any crime in coming up short against Kentucky, which has been to the tournament 55 times, has won a record 120 games and will face Indiana in the second round Saturday. There are many reasons to believe that coach John Calipari was justified last Sunday when he said his Wildcats should have been rated better than a No. 4 seed.
“Once you get on the floor with them, you can see how talented they are: great guards, athletic bigs,” said Jameel Warney, who led Stony Brook with 23 points and 15 rebounds but was held to six points in the first half, when the game was decided and when the Seawolves shot only 18.9 percent from the floor (0 percent from three-point range). “They’re going to be in the Final Four and they’re a great team.”
Like Warney, Carson Puriefoy finished an admirable four-year career with a double-figure game (10 points). He said, “They have a great system, a great coach. They’re young but, you know, they really know how to play the game and they really play well together.”
Kentucky was particularly imposing on defense, setting an NCAA Tournament record with 15 blocked shots. “They were big and they also double-teamed a lot and they’re really good at rotating,’’ forward Rayshaun McGrew said. “We tried to kick it out, but they rotated so well our kick-outs really didn’t bother them.”
Walker added, “We haven’t really seen anything like that.”
The defense exacerbated whatever stage fright Stony Brook might have been feeling. The result was a shooting drought reminiscent of some games in previous America East Tournaments — games that had made the Seawolves increasingly hungry for one shot at The Big Dance.
Warney pointed out after the game that the feeling of losing to Kentucky was nowhere near as painful as having been denied on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the 2015 conference final.
“It still hurts, but we accomplished making it to the tournament, and even though we lost, you can’t take that away,” said Warney, whom Kentucky coach John Calipari praised for “basically bringing Stony Brook into what it is today.”
What it has become is an NCAA Tournament team, a big leap from when coach Steve Pikiell took over. Pikiell on Thursday credited Warney and Puriefoy this way: “They took our school to a place we’ve never been.”
As rough as the Kentucky game was, the Seawolves don’t regret all the dreaming that led up to it. They finally got to dance. “That is something,” McGrew said after his final game, “that is going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”