By Michael Kelly
Albany- The last time Stony Brook played at SEFCU Arena, it was during this past spring’s America East Conference Tournament against New Hampshire. Down three in the quarterfinal matchup with only a few seconds left, the Seawolves’ Muhammad El-Amin raced up the court to attempt a game-tying trey, swerving past a defender along the way.
His shot looked good in the air, but fell just short, glancing off the front of the rim before New Hampshire secured the rebound and ended the Seawolves’ season. After the game, El-Amin could barely keep his head up in the post-game press conference, largely inaudible in answering questions.
What a difference a year can make.
Tied at 66 with the Albany Great Danes (7-22, 2-12), Head Coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout with 32.3 seconds left to play in the game. The contest had been a tough one for the Seawolves, who saw themselves blow a 16-point first half lead and have to play long stretches of time without Bryan Dougher (11 points, 21 minutes) because of foul trouble. The absence of Dougher allowed Albany to focus more attention on El-Amin (19 points) and it helped- after starting the game 3-of-5 from the floor (2-of-3 from deep), the senior swingman missed 10 of his next 14 shots.
Still, the coach knew who at the end of the game he wanted the ball in the hands of his leading scorer and reigning conference player of the week.
“He wanted the ball, and I wanted to give it to him,” Pikiell said afterwards.
After an in-bounds and a series of passes to run down the clock, El-Amin stood a few feet in front of half-court with Albany’s Billy Allen defending him. El-Amin put the ball to the floor with his right hand, slowly inching closer to the three-point line. As he neared the line he faked a crossover, took one power dribble to his right and jumped to release a deep two-point field goal.
This time, the shot was not short.
After the buzzer sounded, Stony Brook’s (20-7, 12-2) players rushed onto the court, storming El-Amin in celebration. As the team headed to the locker room, they were all smiles and seemed to break into a sort of song at one point.
The celebration was well-deserved; though the team appeared lethargic at times during the game, no team in the America East should be happier right now. The win moved the first place Seawolves a full game ahead of the Vermont Catamounts (11-3 in league play) heading into their showdown next Wednesday, and pushed their winning streak up to nine.
While the success has caught many observers by surprise—Stony Brook was picked to finish fourth in the conference and had never won more than eight conference games before—El-Amin says this is where the team expected to be.
“Last year, we were all just coming together,” he said. “This year we all set our goals to bond together and to win a championship.”
Notes: It was “Senior Night” for Albany… Albany senior forward Will Harris led the team with 17 points, and fellow senior Scotty McRae finished with 16…Fouls were a problem all night for Stony Brook- Albany outshot the Seawolves from the foul line, 18-6…Tommy Brenton had a strong all-around game for Stony Brook, compiling five points, 12 rebounds and four steals…nine Seawolves played 12 or more minutes…Albany’s McRae provided some potential bulletin board material for if the two teams play again- when asked if he would like to see Stony Brook in the conference tournament, he said “Honestly, I do. If we can play anyone, this (Stony Brook) is who I want to play”…the Seawolves next play on Feb. 24, at home against second place Vermont. Tipoff is 7:00 P.M.