In the past seven years, Stony Brook has captured first place in the America East four times and reached the conference tournament title game five times.
At long last, the hard-luck Seawolves can finally add their program's first-ever NCAA tournament bid to their list of achievements.
Forward Jameel Warney ended Stony Brook's string of near misses on Saturday with one of the season's finest performances. The 6-foot-8 senior scored a career high 43 points and grabbed nine rebounds to rally the Seawolves to an 80-74 America East title game victory over Vermont in a game they trailed by as many as 14 points midway through the second half.
A dominant back-to-the-basket scorer each of his four seasons at Stony Brook, Warney has emerged as an unstoppable force as a senior. The America East player of the year has averaged 19 points and 10.7 boards and has scored in double figures in every game, putting up big numbers on the likes of Vanderbilt and Notre Dame in addition to small-conference competition.
Never has Warney been better than he was Saturday during an 18-for-22 shooting night in the biggest game of his career.
Time after time, he sealed off his man on the low block and finished over either shoulder. Time after time, he bullied his way through two and three defenders for buckets. And time after time, he attacked the offensive glass and secured second-chance opportunities for his team, none bigger than the one-handed put-back he scored with just over a minute remaining, Stony Brook clinging to a one-point lead and a Vermont player clutching his other arm.
Jameel Warney has 43 & 9, trying to help Stony Brook make the tourney for the first time ever. https://t.co/qjUI1alTcZ
— Ryan T. Smith (@USFRyan) March 12, 2016
Warney's brilliance gave way to a cathartic court storm from longtime Stony Brook fans eager to purge the memory of previous heartbreak.
The Seawolves lost to nemesis Albany on a last-second jump shot last March in a title game they led from nearly start to finish. They also fell to Albany the previous two years, once in the semis and once in the title game. Before that, they dropped a pair of close title games to Vermont and Boston University.
Credit Stony Brook for not crumbling under the weight of all that history when it fell behind on Saturday. And credit Warney for leading the charge and making sure that his college career didn't end without the chance to play on the NCAA tournament stage.
Stony Brook projects as a 13 or 14 seed — and a dangerous one at that. In a year when so many other top mid-majors lost in their conference tournaments, the Seawolves, at long last, were not among them.
- - - - - - -