Albany’s Sam Rowley picked up his fifth foul with about 7 minutes left while fighting for a loose ball with Stony Brook’s Eric McAlister. He’d already scored 18 points, but his team was down by six points.
Albany coach Will Brown admitted being nervous when his leading scorer left the game.
But Albany scored 23 of the final 31 points to defeat Stony Brook 69-60 Saturday in the America East Championship game and earn its second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
"My assistant coaches did a tremendous job taking the most impatient head coach in the country and getting him to settle down," said Brown, jokingly.
The 12th-year Albany coach finally relaxed when sophomore guard Peter Hooley hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 to play. That basket put the Great Danes up 61-56, and they finished 8-for-8 from the line in the final minute.
DJ Evans added 16 points, and Hooley scored nine of his 15 points in the final 7 minutes to help the Great Danes wrap up their second straight America East title.
Rowley recalled that title game last year, saying it helped the players maintain their composure.
"Every player that was on the court had experience playing in a final," Rowley said. "Everybody knew that we needed to make a run at that time if we were going to win the game. And they just executed."
Carson Puriefoy led Stony Brook with 13 points and Jameel Warney added 12.
The Seawolves were attempting to earn their first NCAA tournament berth. They’ve lost three conference finals in the last five years.
Albany led 34-31 at halftime, and Rowley finished 9 for 11 from the field before fouling out. Brown took a chance by putting the junior back in later in the game, and 18 seconds later, he drew his fifth foul.
However, Albany rallied to pull even at 52-52, and Hooley’s 3-pointer helped seal the win.
Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said two second-half shooting droughts were just too much for his team to overcome.
"We just didn’t make shots," he said. "It was a close game. We didn’t make plays when we had to."
Pikiell cited his team’s strong performance in the regular season and a roster with nine underclassmen as reasons for optimism.
"We won 23 games," Pikiell said. "And I’m not apologizing for that. We’re going to be back in this thing again."
Those words were little comfort to the four seniors on the roster. Coley was overcome with emotion during the postgame press conference.
"It’s hard," Coley said. "With the environment, the game, the anxiety going on, the emotions, the will to win."
Albany is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the past nine years. The Great Danes, who finished the season with an 18-14 record, hope to avoid playing in the opening round of the tournament in Dayton, Ohio.