ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — When the final buzzer sounded, Albany’s Peter Hooley was mobbed on his home court, fans and teammates reacting in disbelief after his winning 3-pointer.
Just six weeks after his mother had died of colon cancer, the junior star from Australia hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1.6 seconds left, giving the Great Danes a stunning 51-50 victory over Stony Brook on Saturday and the America East tournament title for the third straight year.
“When you’ve got angels watching, you can do anything,” said Hooley of the only 3 Albany made all game.
The Great Danes (24-8) improved to 5-0 in the title game, including a 69-60 win on the road last year over the Seawolves (23-11), who remained winless in four tries in the championship game.
“There are nine teams in our league. Eight are miserable, one is happy. Nobody feels sorry for you when you lose,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “It comes down to the last five seconds — that’s how hard it is to get to an NCAA Tournament.”
Hooley missed eight games in the middle of the regular season to return to his native Australia to be with his dying mother. The team has worn “SH” patches on their left shoulders in honor of Sue Hooley, who died at 52 in late January.
Trailing 50-48 after Stony Brook’s Carson Puriefoy missed a free throw with 16.9 seconds left, Albany’s Ray Sanders missed a layup with 4 seconds left. But as Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney and Albany’s Sam Rowley fought for the rebound, the ball was tipped out from the baseline to Hooley, who was all alone and swished the winning shot.
“You couldn’t write this stuff,” said Sam Rowley, who led Albany with 14 points. “It’s just beyond words. This was just a perfect moment.”
Hooley, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, returned to the lineup a month ago and was coming off a season-high 21-point performance against New Hampshire in the semifinals.
Hooley averaged 15.5 points in nearly 35 minutes before leaving the team in mid-January. The Great Danes responded by winning every game he missed, including an emotional victory over the Seawolves in the first game without their co-captain.
Albany trailed the entire second half before Hooley’s incredible shot, the only 3 made in 10 attempts. Evan Singletary had 11 points before fouling out late and Hooley finished with 10.
Puriefoy paced Stony Brook with 23 points, and Warney had 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Stony Brook leaned hard on Warney to get them going. He delivered 12 points with an assortment of hooks in the paint and along the baseline to give the Seawolves to a 20-16 halftime lead.
The Seawolves finished the half 8 of 25 (32 percent) to Albany’s 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) performance as leading scorer Sam Rowley missed all seven shots he attempted and had just two points, and third-leading scorer Evan Singletary failed to score.
Guarded closely by 6-foot-11, 275-pound Richard Peters, Warney shrugged off some serious bumping early in the second half and hit two straight baskets as the Seawolves maintained a 28-22 lead. But he failed to hit another shot in the final 16 minutes, attempting only three in the period as Albany switched to a zone defense to deny him the ball.
The Great Danes rallied late when Puriefoy turned from hero to vanquished loser.
After Puriefoy’s third 3-pointer in the closing minutes gave Stony Brook a 47-40 lead with 2:38 left, Singletary responded with a runner in the lane and Sam Rowley hit a pretty hook high off the glass against Warney to move the Great Danes within 49-46 with 61 seconds left.
Two free throws by Mike Rowley narrowed the gap to a single point with 21.7 seconds to go as Puriefoy committed costly turnovers, losing the ball out of bounds twice in the final minute. His final missed free throw proved the costliest mistake of all as the Seawolves missed 3 of their final 4 from the line.
“We played 39 great minutes and then the last minute we just lost,” Puriefoy said. “It’s definitely tough.”
Albany, which started the season 2-6, finished America East play at 15-1 to earn the top seed, its only conference loss coming at home to Stony Brook. The Great Danes had won the previous two meetings between the teams in the postseason.
The teams split the season series and both won on the road, Albany 64-47 and Stony Brook 59-56 a month ago, which snapped Albany’s 13-game winning streak, all but one coming conference play.
The Seawolves, the third seed, entered the game on an eight-game winning streak, and their chances of making it nine fell squarely on the shoulders of the 6-foot-8, 255-pound Warney. He leads the country with 23 double-doubles and is the only player in the nation to lead his conference in points (16.4), rebounds (11.6) and blocks (51).
Stony Brook: Since losing 57-48 to the Vermont Catamounts in early February, Stony Brook had won eight straight, outscoring their opponents by 11.5 points per game. … Warney is the third player in America East history to win player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season.
Albany: The Great Danes held New Hampshire to 29 percent shooting in the second half of last Sunday’s semifinals to escape with a 60-58 victory. … In the previous five games, Hooley was shooting 54.5 percent (24 of 44) from the floor and 47.8 percent (11 of 23) from beyond the arc. … Albany improved to 1-5 when scoring between 50 and 59 points.
Stony Brook: Awaiting postseason selections.
Albany: NCAA Tournament.
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