Is it an embellishment to say that a huge game exists on the Wednesday-night schedule in college hoops… and that oh, by the way, there’s also Duke and North Carolina on your television?
Is it wrong to say that the America East clash between the Stony Brook Seawolves and the Albany Great Danes is a large one, soaked with meaning and magnitude?
You can and should enjoy Duke-UNC at 9 Eastern, but at 7, the best game in that time window — one just as worthy of your attention — comes from one of the smaller conferences which are part of the college basketball family, and deserve mention at times other than Championship Week.
As you’ll see (if you’re not already aware of the backstory), Stony Brook versus Albany is quite the confrontation… even before a reunion potentially emerges in a couple weeks’ time.
It’s fitting that Wednesday’s game occurs on Albany’s home floor, because it was in SEFCU Arena that the Seawolves’ hearts were ripped out of their insides last March… by a player who was grieving.
Yeah. Just your ordinary March storyline, right?
Here’s the reset for the 2015 America East Tournament final. Stony Brook, leading 50-48 inside the final 20 seconds of regulation, was chasing its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. Entering Championship Week last March, 53 schools had never put on their Dancing shoes. Three first-timers finally found the right footwear — Buffalo, UC-Irvine, and North Florida all found their way to Bracketville. Stony Brook was in position to become the fourth such team.
Then this — all of this — happened:
The missed foul shot. The inability to rebound the wild miss. The inability to keep the ball from bouncing beyond the three-point line, where Albany could win the game. The lack of a baseball pass on the subsequent imbound, which made it that much harder to get off a decent shot attempt and steal back the victory.
Bonk. Bim. Bam. Boom. In a few short but lethal moments of inadequacy, Stony Brook’s dream of a storybook ending was crushed.
Albany’s Peter Hooley — calling to mind Robert Horry of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 NBA West Finals against the Sacramento Kings — scooped up the tapped ball at the top of the key and flushed a game-winning triple.
Albany 51, Stony Brook 50. Final.
The Great Danes, NCAA tournament veterans, made yet another trip to the promised land. Stony Brook’s first taste of March magic was that close… and then it vanished.
If the story ended then and there, you would think that Albany was the big, bad behemoth, the team which gets all the breaks while Stony Brook once again had to settle for second-best, for “almost.”
However, Hooley — the hero for Albany — was hardly a figure who had been dealt a favorable hand in life. His mother in Australia died from cancer earlier in the season. Hooley went to Australia to be with his mom and was able to spend time with her before she passed away. If it was hard to relish Stony Brook’s latest encounter with heartbreak, it was easy to express gratitude for that ray of sunshine in a young man’s life after his mother died.
That’s the larger backdrop to this Seawolf-Great Dane reunion in Albany on Wednesday.
The more immediate backdrop is fairly compelling in its own right.
Stony Brook is one of only three teams in Division I college basketball with a perfect conference record. The Seawolves are 13-0 entering Wednesday’s duel with the Danes. Yale is perfect in the Ivy League, and Stephen F. Austin is unblemished in the Southland. Albany is three games behind Stony Brook in the league race, so the road to March goes through the Seawolves. However, Albany would love to not only ruin its foe’s perfect conference season; the defending champions in the America East would enjoy planting another seed of doubt in the Seawolves’ minds.
Are you excited for Duke-Carolina? You should be.
Just realize that another very compelling game precedes it on Wednesday.