There was nothing planned about the miraculous shot that saved Albany’s season Saturday. Nothing logical, nothing clinical. It was a fortuitous tip of the ball to the right spot on the floor, at just the right time.
To just the right man.
After the heartbreaking season he has endured, Peter Hooley deserved this moment. Deserved the chance to grab a loose ball that was batted out to the top of the key, then hurriedly fire a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer and Stony Brook and sent the Great Danes to the NCAA tournament.
In a poignant and poetic instant that sports so often seem to provide, Hooley became the hero.
You can call it a lucky break. A fluke. But the junior guard believes there was a higher power involved.
“With angels watching over you,” Hooley told Yahoo Sports, “you can do anything.”
The angel Hooley referred to is his late mother, Sue, who died Jan. 30 from cancer. Albany’s leading scorer left the team for a month during this season, missing eight games so he could return home to Australia to spend time with her before she passed. His father, Jeff, and twin sister, Emma, came with him to America for a week in mid-February to make sure he was going to be OK.
Hooley was OK. With the help of his teammates – “I don’t think I could have done it without them,” he said – he was able to get back on the court and continue playing.
There is no doubt who he is playing for.
“I made a promise to mum that I was going to come back [to America] and play,” Hooley said in a phone interview. “She got so much joy out of watching me play.”
She would have loved this game above all the others. Even though it looked like a lost cause for much of the afternoon.
Stony Brook took the lead late in the first half and held it for the next 22 minutes and 22 seconds. The Seawolves appeared to have their first-ever NCAA tourney bid locked up when they took a seven-point lead in the final two minutes.
But Stony Brook missed three out of four free throws and had a turnover to open the door. Trailing by two points with 17 seconds left, Albany went downcourt hoping to find some magic.
There was none to be found on a wild Ray Sanders drive that caromed off the backboard with about four seconds left, not close to the rim. But a Stony Brook player tipped the ball out of the lane, and Hooley grabbed it on one bounce and let it fly.
At that point, Albany hadn’t made a 3-pointer all day in nine attempts. Hooley himself was 0 for 3. But there was no time to even think about this one.
“As soon as I let it go, it felt good,” Hooley said. “When it hit bottom of the net, everything just crowded in on me.”
Hooley was so overcome afterward that he dropped to a knee by the scorer’s table in tears.
“It was a tough moment, but a special moment,” he said. “To end up like that is a dream come true. It’s been a tough year, that’s for sure. But I knew I had to keep slogging on. ... It’s the best moment of my life.”
Afterward, Hooley was able to call his twin sister. It was 1:30 a.m. in Adelaide, but he knew Emma would be up. She and their father had watched the game.
“She was just crying,” Peter said. “I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying.”
Thanks to a fortuitous tip and a shockingly clutch shot, Peter Hooley went from an unknown player at a mid-major school to the first face of March Madness. It’s a great story if it stops there, but it doesn’t. The backstory puts tears in your eyes.
Which is why Peter Hooley deserved the March moment that fatefully bounced his way Saturday.