STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Jameel Warney wasn't going to let his final chance at an NCAA tournament slip away -- even with one hand behind his back.
With 1:15 remaining and Stony Brook holding on to a one-point lead, the Seawolves' senior big man fought off his man with one arm, grabbed an offensive rebound with the other and laid it back in to give Stony Brook a three-point lead it didn't relinquish en route to an 80-74 victory over Vermont in the America East Conference championship game.
"A missed shot is like a pass to me," Warney said. "Once the shot went in, I knew were one stop away from making history."
The 6-foot-8 Warney finished with a career-high 43 points, which tied a conference tournament record, and added 10 rebounds and four blocks. He single-handedly kept Stony Brook in the game in the first half, scoring 18 points, while the rest of the team went 3-of-19 from the field. The Seawolves were down by as many as 15 points in the second half, but senior guard Carson Puriefoy (23 points) stepped up and provided Warney with some help.
The Saturday before Selection Sunday had become something of a Groundhog Day for coach Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook basketball. The Seawolves had reached the title game in four of the past five seasons -- and lost all four times, including twice at home. In 2013, Stony Brook was bounced in the semifinals after winning the regular-season title.
"It's been a blessing," Pikiell said. "Everyone in our league would die to be in our position. I've said, when they play well enough to win, they will. I talk about the 99 things we have done; everyone talks about the one thing we haven't."
But when Vermont opened up the 15-point lead in the second half, there was a sense at Island FCU Arena that it was happening again. Deja vu.
"We got this big chip on or shoulder," Warney said. "We always feel like we can win a game, even if we're down 100."
"My mindset was, 'We're not going to let this happen,'" Puriefoy added.
Warney simply wouldn't let Stony Brook stumble on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament this time around. Vermont tried everything it could to stop him, switching between man-to-man and zone defenses. But Warney answered every challenge, with three Vermont players eventually fouling out. He consistently got in a good position to score, and his teammates continued to find him for easy finishes at the rim.
"Just being aggressive from the start, and coach said before the game to get 20 shots up," Warney said. "Duck in hard, don't be casual with post-ups, playing to my strengths. And I thank my teammates for giving me the ball."
Stony Brook, which moved to Division I in 1999, will make its first NCAA tournament appearance.
"It's been an unbelievable journey. It's so hard," Pikiell said. "All the No. 1 seeds [losing this season], you see how hard it is. People think it's easy to win games. I'm proud of what we've built here."