When Stony Brook played in the America East Championship game for the first time in 2011, Anthony Jackson, Dave Coley and Eric McAlister were freshman. They lost that game on a couple last-second free throws, but were able to return to the title game the following season as sophomores. They came up short in that one, too. Now seniors, the trio is back in the championship game and hoping to end their careers on a high note when the second-seeded Seawolves face No. 4 Albany at home on Saturday.
Those two letdowns, bottled together with last year’s heartbreaking semifinal loss to the Great Danes, have driven the seniors throughout the year and now they have perhaps their best chance to attain the NCAA tournament bid that has proved so elusive over the course of their careers.
“When you’re a senior, everything means that much more,” McAlister said. “We’ve been here twice before, so we know what that feeling of not reaching our goal is like and we’re trying to avoid that.”
“I don’t think ‘hungry’ is the word for it,” Jackson said. “We’ve experienced the ups and downs of the program so I think going into this game we know what we gotta do, we know how we have to play, we know the energy we have to bring, we know how physical it’s gonna be. As a unit, we’re just determined.”
Stony Brook’s first appearance in the conference championship game came off an improbable run as the fifth seed in the conference tournament that included an upset over top-seeded Vermont. But the Seawolves’ Cinderella story ended when player of the year John Holland scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half, including the game-winning free throws with 2.4 seconds left, to lift Boston University to victory.
The loss was understandable considering they were facing the best player in the conference. But this time, it’s the Seawolves who have the America East player of the year on their roster in the 6-foot-8 260-pound beast that is sophomore Jameel Warney.
In 2012, Stony Brook had the luxury of hosting the championship game as the top seed in the tournament. But the game was played on a temporary court in Stony Brook Arena, basically making it a neutral-site contest, and Vermont won a defensive struggle. This year’s game will be played in Pritchard Gymnasium, where the Seawolves are 23-1 in conference games over the past three seasons.
“The arena was still our gym, we’re not gonna try to use it as an excuse,” McAlister said. “Vermont executed better that day. But for Pritchard, there’s definitely a sense of familiarity. We workout there every day, we practice there, all summer long we play there. So it’s definitely gonna be more familiar to us than the arena was.” (more…)