The conditions were in place for Stony Brook to earn its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. Their third appearance in the America East Championship game on Saturday was staged before an ESPN2 audience in raucous 1,630-seat Pritchard Gymnasium.
And when Albany star Sam Rowley went to the bench with his fifth foul with 7:02 left in the game and the Seawolves holding a six-point lead, the table was set for the victory feast. But it was the Great Danes, who overturned the table and lapped up the spoils in a stunning 69-60 victory. It was the second year in a row Albany (18-14) went on the road to earn the title, and it marked the fourth NCAA bid under coach Will Brown.
After Rowley fouled out, the Danes surged to tie the game at 52 on two John Puk foul shots. The Seawolves (23-10) led once more, but Albany finished the game on a 17-6 run that included seven points from tourney MVP Peter Hooley, who finished with 15. Rowley led the Danes, with 18, and DJ Evans added 16.
Carson Puriefoy topped SBU with 13, Jameel Warney added 12, and Rayshaun McGrew had 10. It was the Seawolves' third attempt in four seasons to win the title, but it ended in familiar heartbreak.
Fueled by the roaring sellout crowd in noise-amplifying Pritchard, the Seawolves rode an adrenaline surge to an early 9-0 lead, including five points from Warney. But Warney was subbed out, and Albany got off its heels and went to the basket, scoring four layups in a 10-0 run to take the lead.
The Great Danes extended their lead to a first-half high of 20-14 as 5-9 DJ Evans hit a three and got to the rim twice for layups. Now, it was the Seawolves who were struggling, although McGrew provided a spark off the bench with eight first-half points.
Two foul shots by McGrew tied it at 27 with 2:47 left in the half. But Albany reached intermission with a 34-31 lead, and Warney remained a missing person after his initial five points in the opening surge as the Danes swarmed around him and made the entry pass nearly impossible.
Baskets became more difficult to come by as the second half got off to a fitful start and the pace slowed. But Warney made his way to the foul line early in the half, and Albany committed four straight turnovers as the Seawolves capitalized with a three-point play by Coley before taking a 40-38 lead at 13:03 on a corner three by Carson Puriefoy III, who then added a pair of free throws before a McGrew layup extended the run to 10-0 for a 44-38 lead.
Albany regained a 46-44 lead, but Puriefoy knocked down a three for a 47-46 SBU lead and made another basket as an 8-0 surge pushed it to 52-46. At that point with 7:02 left, Great Danes star Rowley was called for a backcourt foul, his fifth, putting him out of the game.
It figured to be a game-changer for Stony Brook, but the Great Danes battled back to tie at 52 on two foul shots by John Puk at 5:41. That set up the furious finish.