In absence of Peter Hooley, Sam Rowley stepped up with 16 points and 13 rebounds as Albany defeated Stony Brook. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)
Ten months ago, with an America East championship on the line, Peter Hooley walked onto the floor at Pritchard Gymnasium and drained clutch shot after clutch shot to send Albany to the NCAA Tournament and break the already fragile heart of Stony Brook for a third time in four years.
Fast forward to Monday night, where first place in the America East was on the line at the newly renovated Island Federal Credit Union Arena. Only this time, Hooley was not on hand, having flown back to his native Australia to be with his mother, Susan, who is battling colon cancer.
As it turned out, Albany did just fine without him, with the Great Danes (10-7, 5-0 America East) keeping their perfect conference record intact with a 64-47 victory over Stony Brook (12-8, 3-2) that was equal parts convincing and stifling.
"This is a game where, as a coach, I can sit back and smile," Will Brown remarked after four of his players ended the night in double figures as Albany led wire-to-wire; closing the game with 11 unanswered points, "because our guys gave a good effort."
Stony Brook, playing their second game in three days after a 43-point rout on the road against Maine Saturday, got within one possession on several occasions, but could not land an equalizer, shooting an unusual 32 percent (19-for-59) from the field in an effort their coach chalked up to both growing pains and an off night.
"To their credit, they made timely threes," Seawolves head coach Steve Pikiell said of Albany. "Then, they went to the (free throw) line 23 times and made 19 of them. That kills your momentum too. The ball went in for them, it didn't for us."
Sam Rowley led the way with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Great Danes, who broke out a zone defense they rarely, if ever, employ during the course of a game. The change in tactics worked, with Stony Brook limited to just a 4-for-22 showing from three-point range.
"I can't stand zone," Brown openly admitted, "but as stubborn a coach as I am, I have to put our guys in a position to be successful. I thought we did a good job of mixing things up defensively. We wanted to make this as ugly a game as possible. We wanted to make it a street fight."
All things considered, it was a statement win for the Great Danes, who now get a glimpse into their future without Hooley, whose 14.5 points per game earned him the honor of being the team's leading scorer. His leave of absence started Saturday with a 15-hour flight to Australia, with teammate Mike Rowley accompanying him to the airport, staying with him on a layover in Los Angeles before flying back to Albany himself after seeing Hooley off. It is unknown at this time whether Albany will have their leader back this season, but for now, the Great Danes are preparing as if they will not.
"We've just got to prepare every day like we're not going to have him," Brown candidly stated. "The great Fran Fraschilla told me, 'coaching's easy. It's all about crisis management, it's going to test you.' We've got to continue to understand that without Peter, we don't have a lot of room for error."
Hooley's countryman, who took the baton in his place Monday night, offered a much more introspective look at how his team handled the absence of perhaps its most integral piece.
"I was very impressed with the way we handled it," Sam Rowley reflected. "You hate to see it, but you've got to make the most of it. It's nice to get that out of your head. Basketball is a good sort of distraction, as they say. It's hard to think about those things."
"I think we always take the mentality that we're playing for each other," Rowley continued, "and now, it's pretty obvious."
"I think Pete knew that everyone was going to support him."