Sunday, March 15, 2015

Stony Brook Seawolves 50 at Albany Great Danes 51 (NCAA Basketball, America East Championship) - March 14, 2015


"I love it when a plan comes together." Those of us who grew up in the 1980s remember this as the catch phrase of Hannibal Smith, leader of the A-Team, who graced our TV screens between 1983 and 1987. Sports travellers use slightly different wording when planning their trips, often exclaiming "I love it when a schedule comes together," when they find a game at a nearby venue that slots nicely into their plans. Such was the case this past weekend when my personal life combined with the schedule to allow me to see three A-Teams in the New York capital region.

For reasons that are not germane to the story, my wife was in Canada and had to return to the US around Friday the 13th. I knew this sometime in advance but did not know the exact date of her return, only that it would be decided at the last minute. For this reason, flying was not an option; she would either take a train or a bus. As I scoured the sports schedules between New York and Montreal to see where I could meet her, I noticed that the AHL's Adirondack Flames would be hosting the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night. I really wanted to visit Glens Falls Civic Center before the franchise moved to the West Coast, but couldn't imagine that there would be many buses from Canada stopping there.

The nearest big town was Albany, and buses from Montreal stopped there regularly. Their AHL team had a three-game homestand over the weekend, but I had visited them last season (ironically against Adirondack) so wasn't particularly interested in that. But the University at Albany (part of the SUNY system) was involved in the America East tournament, and as the top seed, they would host all games they played on campus. Even better, the championship was scheduled for March 14. All Albany (15-1) had to do was beat Maine (2-14) and New Hampshire (11-5) and I would have a game to see on Saturday morning. The Great Danes dispensed of the Black Bears with no problem, but were losing to the Wildcats at halftime, only to come back and win by 2. All of a sudden, the schedule had come together!  Even better, their opponent would be Stony Brook (12-4), a Long Island based team I have seen twice now as my friend Eddie is a huge fan. The Seawolves defeated Vermont on the road, setting up a rematch of last season's title game. When my wife confirmed she would be returning on Friday I asked her to get dropped off in Albany, and the weekend was set.



I rented a car and drove up to Albany on Friday after work, watching the Devils beat the Worcester Sharks 3-2 as I awaited my wife's arrival. As an aside, it is amazing that Albany continues to have an AHL team when nobody shows up to the games. Anyway, my wife eventually made it to Albany and we enjoyed an evening at the City Beer Hall, about the only open bar in the downtown area.



The next day I awoke groggily, but quickly regained my senses when I realized that there was a conference championship game starting in a couple of hours at 11 am. I sped through Albany (yeah right, the lights here are so mistimed that you can barely get above 30) and arrived on campus at 9:30. Parking was free at a lot about 5 minutes away from SEFCU Arena (above), with shuttle buses taking those too lazy or cold to make the trek. The venue is sterile from the outside, with little to let you know that Division I basketball is played inside.



The game was advertised as sold out, but there will still a bunch of student tickets available. Eddie was waiting for me at the door and we went to will call to pick up the tickets (face value $25). Upon entering, the first order of business was to meet with Bob Deal, an Albany supporter and another sports traveler. Bob was inside the Albany Sports Hall of Fame, but they let us in to say hi even though Eddie was wearing a Stony Brook toque and jersey. With the pleasantries out of the way, we made our way to the seats, which were in the top row at the far corner behind Stony Brook's bench. In other words, the worst seats in the place (not even visible in the picture below).



As game time approached the crowd slowly filtered in, and by tip off it certainly looked sold out. The game started as ugly as possible with both teams showing nerves and shooting terribly. The score was 2-2 after 5 minutes and then 6-4 Albany after 10. My friend Sharpy, watching at home in Ottawa, called it "unwatchable dreck". He may have been right for those sitting on a couch in their living room, but the atmosphere in the arena was electric, even with all the misses. The tension seemed to ratchet up with every clank of the iron. Both teams eventually relaxed, and with 4 minutes left in the half and down 16-13, Stony Brook finally found a rhythm and ended the half on a 7-0 run.



I used the halftime to move to the concourse high behind the net that Stony Brook would be shooting at in the second half (above). This was right behind the band and offered a much better view of the action, as well as having the advantage of being relatively free of other fans. The second half was much better than the first, but the Great Danes were unable to close the gap. When Carson Puriefoy (#10 below) sank a couple of key threes to give the Seawolves a 44-38 lead with 4 minutes left, it looked like the visitors might steal one.



Still, I could sense that Stony Brook lacked the killer instinct they needed here. Albany kept it close, but after another Puriefoy three, the Great Danes were down 47-40 with 3 minutes to go. Then the wheels fell off the Stony Brook bandwagon.

Jameel Warney missed the front end of a one-and-one and then committed a foul on Albany's next possession, with Evan Singletary converting both foul shots. After both teams added two points to their total, Singletary fouled Warney, who missed both shots. You could see the panic in their eyes; Stony Brook was not in control. Sam Rowley missed a trey but picked up the offensive board and converted a jumpshot to bring Albany within 3. On the inbounds, Puriefoy turned it over and Albany managed two straight offensive boards before a Warney foul sent Mike Rowley to the line. He calmly made both and it was suddenly 49-48 for Stony Brook with 21 seconds left.



At this point, Stony Brook took the last timeout in the game. I texted Sharpy, telling him that Albany would win on a 3 after Stony Brook missed one of their two free throws. Puriefoy was fouled on the inbounds play and made the first foul shot. Of course, he then missed the second and the Great Danes took the ball down the court quickly. Ray Sanders missed his shot but the ball was tipped out to Peter Hooley who drained the three (the only one for Albany in the game) to send the crowd into a frenzy. Stony Brook had a couple of seconds to get a shot off but with no timeouts, they couldn't even get the ball to half court and the crowd rushed the floor (below) while the Stony Brook supporters stood stunned.



An incredible ending that was the top play on SportsCenter that night and capped one of the most interesting games I have seen. You could sense that Stony Brook were nervous down the stretch and it cost them the game, as they shot only 10/19 from the line, dooming them in such a low-scoring contest.

If you missed the story, Hooley, an Australian, lost his mother to cancer back in January and had missed some games to be with her, returning in February. His winning three netted him an appearance on ESPN a couple of days later. Although I was cheering for Stony Brook, it is hard to be upset when you read something like this. All mid-major teams deserve a bit of time in the sun and I'll be rooting for Albany when they play Oklahoma in the first round.

Notes

This past season I attended games at 14 schools, with all of them providing some great memories, especially now as tournament time approaches. It is gratifying as a sports traveler when a team I have seen wins its conference tournament, as Eastern Washington and Manhattan did. I'll be following those two teams closely in the tournament. But there is no doubt that being one of just 4,468 fans at the 2015 America East championship is something I'll never forget and why I will never stop traveling for sports. You just never know when you might see history, especially from an A-Team.

Best,

Sean

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