It’s the same time, next year for Stony Brook seniors Jameel Warney, Carson Puriefoy III and Rayshaun McGrew. They have reached their third straight America East Conference championship game together, a remarkable accomplishment that is testament to their talent, consistency and will. But they have yet to cut down the nets symbolizing the Seawolves’ first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Their past two losses to Albany extended the school’s record of title-game futility to 0-4 during the past five seasons, so top-seeded Stony Brook (25-6) carries the heavy burden of expectations against third-seeded Vermont (21-12) at 11 a.m. Saturday at sold-out Island FCU Arena in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
“It’s everything to us to get to this point right here,” Puriefoy said. “We have a bunch of veteran guys who know what it takes to get here and know what it takes to win. The theme of this year is finishing games, so we’ve got to bring it all together.”
There’s no ignoring the past, especially how the Seawolves blew a seven-point lead with 1:56 left last year at Albany and lost, 51-50, on Peter Hooley’s three-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. “It’s definitely on everybody’s mind,” Puriefoy said. “It’s definitely something we all think about and we all talk about from time to time to keep it in our heads that we can’t let this happen again and this is the year to do it.
“This is our final shot. We think we have the best team in the league. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
Stony Brook’s program is well established after five consecutive seasons with at least 22 wins, but there is a special urgency now because a three-time America East player of the year such as Warney doesn’t come along very often.
He said the addition of transfers Ahmad Walker, who played in the 2014 final before going to junior college for a year, and point guard Lucas Woodhouse provides experience the Seawolves need to handle the pressure.
“We’re happy to be in this spot, but we want to take the win,” Warney said. “I think we all know how it’s going to be. If you’re in your first championship game, you get nervous. My sophomore year, I had 12 points, which is not a good way to go out. It’s all about experience, and I believe with the utmost confidence that we can do what we have to do.”
If there has been a unifying theme to Stony Brook’s four championship losses, it has been the failure to shoot well under pressure. The Seawolves shot 31.5 percent in 2011, 29.3 percent in 2012, 39.3 percent in 2014 and 36.2 percent last year, when Warney and Puriefoy made 15 of 28 shots and everyone else went 2-for-19.
“We preach on doing what you’ve been doing all season,” said McGrew, who had 10 points off the bench in 2014 but was scoreless last year. “In these championship games, people are going to be nervous and are going to second-guess some decisions because they don’t want to make mistakes. But it’s a basketball game at the end of the day. Do what you’ve been doing all season to help us get wins.”
Vermont scored a 76-62 win over the Seawolves in the regular-season finale two weeks ago at Island FCU Arena to even the season series, but SBU had clinched home-court advantage and lacked some incentive. Now everything Stony Brook’s seniors have worked to attain is within reach.
“Us three really don’t have to talk about it,” Warney said. “We know what needs to be done. It’s just great that our three best players are seniors, and we know we have to play well to win.”