By Ian Thomas
After a whirlwind season for the Stony Brook Seawolves men’s basketball team that culminated in the team’s first America East regular season title and a bevy of school records and personal accomplishments, expectations for the number one seeded team were sky high going into the America East Conference tournament this past weekend in West Hartford, Conn.
The first round match-up seemed favorable for the Seawolves, as they were scheduled against the Albany Great Danes, a team they had already beaten twice during the regular season, albeit by a combined eight points in the two games. Still, with a spot in the NCAA tournament going to the team who won the tournament, they need a victory, and won a hard-fought game, 68 to 59.
The next game seemed like an even more lopsided game on paper. The Seawolves were matched with the Boston University Terriers, who they last played on January 30 and thoroughly beat by a score of 71 to 55. The Terriers had picked up their game as of late, winning seven of the eight games after being dismantled by Stony Brook, but still seemed to be outmatched in terms of overall talent.
Was this the year for Stony Brook? The team’s 21 wins was a school record, ditto with the conference championship banner that will hang from the rafters of a hopefully packed Pritchard Gymnasium next season. Senior guard Muhammad El-Amin won the America East Player of the Year award and coach Steve Pikiell took home coach of the year honors as well, two distinctions that the program had never received. The writing seemed to be on the wall.
Unfortunately though, the Cinderella story only plays out in fairytales.
After opening the game strong, the Seawolves turned flat. At one point they trailed 37-21, and at halftime were faced with a 13 point deficit. But the team battled, and quickly retook the lead, and with less than six minutes remaining, were up by four points.
However, the strict defense and quality free throw shooting that boosted the team all year failed them in this one, and as the Terriers controlled play down the stretch, the eventual loss was inevitable, with a final score of 70-63.
“We’re one game short of our goal for the year,” said Pikiell following the game. “But we had a terrific year.”
All is not lost however, as there are still some games to be played, although not in the more prestigious of the two NCAA tournaments . By virtue of winning the regular season championship and then losing in the conference tournament, the Seawolves earned an automatic birth in the 32-team National Invitational Tournament, better known as the NIT. Although it’s unlikely that the team earns a high seed at the March 14 selection show , Pritchard Gym could host another game this year as well. More than likely though, the team will be on the road for their first round game, which will take place on either March 16 or 17.
Regardless of the eventual result of the forthcoming games, the team set new standards not only for themselves, but for the entire athletic program at the Division I level. Although the team will lose El-Amin next season, along with three other important seniors, the young nucleus of players guided by Pikiell should be a force to be reckoned with going forward.
Hopefully they just need another year to make sure that slipper fits.