Call it divine fate. Call it karma. Call it as good as it gets. Just don’t call it a storybook ending.
In a storybook ending, Peter Hooley’s mother, Sue would have been sitting courtside when Hooley drilled the game winner to send his Albany Great Danes past Stony Brook in the America East Championship Game and on to a third-straight NCAA Tournament.
But this was as close to perfect it gets in real life.
“”When you have angels watching you, you can do anything,” said Hooley, referencing his mother, who died from colon cancer on Jan. 30, after hitting the game-winning shot in the final seconds of Albany’s 51-50 win.
With 6.2 seconds remaining and the Great Danes trailing 50-49, Albany junior wing Ray Sanders drover the lane, throwing up a wild, contested runner that missed the mark badly, hitting off the very top of the backboard, before falling into the fray below.
In the mad dash scramble, the ball was tipped out towards the perimeter, bouncing once and landing right in the hands of Hooley, standing at the top of key, two and a half feet behind the arc with 3.6 seconds remaining.
For the first 39 minutes and 56.4 seconds, the top-seeded Great Danes, hosting the championship game on their SEFCU home court, had been thoroughly outplayed by third-seeded Stony Brook, and Hooley had struggled mightily, hitting just two of his first 12 shots from the floor.
It had nothing on the struggle Hooley and his family had gone through earlier in the year, when Sue’s health took a turn for the worse and the Great Danes’ star – who also drilled the championship game winner last season to knock off the Seawolves – left the team to head home to Australia for three weeks to be by his mother’s bedside during her final days.
Hooley missed eight games during that stretch, spending what he estimated as 16 hours a day by his mother’s side ever day for three weeks until she passed away, before returning to rejoin the Danes as they made their stretch run during the regular season.
After finishing 15-1 in conference play, Albany looked as if they would fall victim to the kind of upsets they had pulled off in each of the past two years, when they made the NCAA Tournament as a four-seed, winning the championship on the home courts of Vermont and Stony Brook, respectively.
The Great Danes were outshot from both the floor and behind the arc in what was a defensive quagmire on Saturday (36.2 percent to 31.1 percent and 30 percent to 10 percent, respectively), but that all went out the window when the ball bounced into Hooley’s hands and he let fly, finding nothing but the bottom of the next with less than two seconds remaining for the win.
“We were just resilient. We battled and battled. It’s the best moment of my life. After everything I’ve been through, this was for my family and my mom especially,” said Hooley, who knelt by the scorer’s table alone weeping after the game, before being surrounded by his teammates.