For the entirety of this decade, Stony Brook basketball has been associated with almost.
Almost an America East champion.
Almost an NCAA qualifier.
Almost making history.
Going into this year, the Seawolves had won two America East regular season titles and made four America East title games since the 2010-2011 season. All they had to show for it was four finals losses and one NIT win. It was as painful a history as any across all of college basketball.
This year, though, Stony Brook shattered the glass ceiling. The Seawolves beat Vermont on Saturday, 80-74, finally winning their first AE tournament title and qualifying for their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The spoils of history: a date with the bluest of basketball bluebloods: Kentucky.
It’s fitting that the Seawolves will get their chance on the national stage against a program that has been right in the center of it for much of the last 50 years. When the nation turns its eyes to the club from Long Island, it’ll see a team built around veteran players and one of the best forwards in America.
Since George Mason’s miracle Final Four run a decade ago, mid-major teams have found tournament success by coalescing around a veteran core, and Stony Brook is no different. The three top scorers are all seniors, and the other player averaging double digits in points is a junior.
It begins in the middle with Jameel Warney, an NBA-caliber player — there’s no other way to describe him. At 6-8 and 260 pounds with arms for days, the senior forward has carried Stony Brook at times this season. He scored 43 points in the league championship game against Vermont. His 19.8 points and 10.7 rebounds a game lead the team, and he is one of only six players in the country averaging at least three blocks a game (3.03). Warney’s execution makes him even more of a defensive nightmare. Of the top 100 scorers in the nation, his 63.7 shooting percentage ranks second.
While Warney has garnered the majority of national attention for Stony Brook, the Seawolves truly thrive because of their alternate weapons, and no one is a better Robin to Warney’s Batman than Carson Puriefoy. Stony Brook’s ace in the field shoots 40 percent both inside and outside the arc, to the tune of 15 points a game. Rayshaun McGrew and Ahmad Walker average 10.8 and 10.4 points a game, respectively. The Seawolves’ balanced attack has them at a plus-13.4 scoring advantage per contest.
Stony Brook lost two of its last three regular season games, but before that the Seawolves hadn’t lost since mid-December. This team is the scary type of mid-major that does damage to brackets in the round of 64. A talented veteran-heavy team playing with a purpose can be the ultimate bracket buster, especially considering that SBU matches up with a Kentucky team that failed to play to its ability at times this season.
Coach Steve Pikiell has been at the helm of the Seawolves since 2005. He’s turned the team from a four-win squad in his first year to 26-6 this year. Pikiell has brought the Seawolves farther than they’ve ever traveled in their 55-year history.
After years of having its dreams spoiled, Stony Brook — on the NCAA tournament stage at long last — can now play spoiler and etch its name even more deeply into college basketball history.