Junior forward Sam Rowley was carrying the Great Danes on his broad shoulders when he fouled out on a questionable call with 7:02 remaining.
University at Albany could have folded. Instead, seniors DJ Evans and John Puk teamed up with tourney MVP Peter Hooley to help the Great Danes rally past second-seeded host Stony Brook, 69-60, in the America East Conference championship game Saturday at 1,650-seat Pritchard Gym.
It was the second straight tourney championship as the fourth seed for the 18-14 Great Danes, who will learn their NCAA opponent tonight. UAlbany officials are expecting to compete in a play-in game in Dayton Tuesday or Wednesday. Stony Brook, which will move into a new and much larger facility next year, drops to 23-10.
Rowley had 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals before his early exit, but his teammates responded with several clutch performances. Hooley, who was 2-for-8 from the floor and scored just six points in the first half, scored seven points in a 15-4 run, and Puk registered six straight points in that same spurt to lift the Great Danes to their second straight win.
“It was up to me to find the right combination on the floor when Sam fouled out,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “We made sure we had Peter Hooley get a touch on every possession. John Puk was fantastic at the end of the game, and Hooley’s been awesome the entire tournament, even though Stony Brook did a great job on him today.
“This is a really resilient group of guys that came together at the right time,” Brown added. “We got into a good rhythm.”
Brown said his team’s attitude played a huge role in the outcome.
“I think all coaches and players get a little nervous in these situations. I wanted our guys loose and relaxed. I’m very proud of my kids. This is a tough environment to play in. We weathered the storm.”
Hooley, who finished with 15 points and two steals after pouring in 30 against UMBC and 26 vs. Vermont, laughed when asked about his key three-pointer, which put the Danes up, 61-56, with a minute to go.
“I got the ball in my hands, and coach told me to keep shooting, no matter how many shots I already missed,” he said. “I just wanted to make a play.”
“I looked at our guys on the court when I fouled out, and I knew we had guys out there with experience in this situation,” said Rowley. “All they had to do was execute. The results speak for themselves.”
Most of the Danes said they didn’t feel the pressure. They made 14 straight free throws in the final 6:30.
“The pressure was all on them,” said Evans, who scored 16 points. “They were the higher seed, and it was in their gym. Everything was on them.”
“We all believed. That’s the key,” said Hooley. “When Sam fouled out, we all came together. We are all brothers on this team.”
UAlbany’s head coach now has four America East crowns in 13 seasons.
“I told our guys this doesn’t get old,” said Brown, who grew up in nearby Miller’s Place. “I played a lot of basketball in this gym as a kid. This is a great way to close it.”
Puk and Gary Johnson scored eight points apiece and both helped shore up the Danes’ interior defense late in the game. Carsoqn Puriefoy and AE Player of the Year Jameel Warney scored 13 and 12 points, respectively for the Seawolves.
S. Rowley 9-11 0-0 18, Johnson 1-5 6-7 8, Puk 2-4 4-4 8, Evans 6-13 2-2 16, Hooley 4-15 4-4 15, Devlin 1-3 0-0 2, Ennema 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 23-52 18-19 69.
STONY BROOK (23-10)
Warney 3-8 6-7 12, McAlister 3-6 1-2 7, Walker 1-4 0-0 2, Coley 4-14 1-1 9, Puriefoy 4-10 3-5 13, Mitchell 1-1 0-0 2, Jackson 2-8 1-1 5, McGrew 4-5 2-2 10, Mayo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 14-18 60.
Halftime—UAlbany, 34-31. 3-Point Goals—UAlbany 5-11 (Hooley 3-7, Evans 2-4), Stony Brook 2-14 (Puriefoy 2-5, McAlister 0-2, Coley 0-3, Jackson 0-4). Fouled Out—Jackson, S. Rowley. Rebounds—UAlbany 32 (Johnson 10), Stony Brook 35 (Warney 9). Assists—UAlbany 9 (Evans, S. Rowley 3), Stony Brook 9 (Coley 5). Total Fouls—UAlbany 14, Stony Brook 20. A—1,630.