Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bright future for Stony Brook

By JOHN JEANSONNE  Stony Brook's Danny Carter fights off Boston U.'s
Photo credit: John Tlumacki / Boston Globe | Stony Brook's Danny Carter fights off Boston U.'s D.J. Irving, right, as he tries to gather a first-half rebound during the America East championship game. (Mar. 12, 2011)
BOSTON -- Not so far removed from college basketball irrelevance, Stony Brook's players made the sport notice them again Saturday. The Seawolves lost the America East title game, and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, to Boston University on two late free throws, 56-54. But it was Stony Brook's first appearance in the conference final. BU, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell noted, "has played in 15 conference championship games. We've been only 12 years in Division I.''
There was a nice crowd emoting over the proceedings -- 3,845 packed into BU's hockey arena because its basketball gym doesn't meet the America East edict for a minimum of 3,000 for such a showcase game. Among the fans were an estimated 1,300 from Stony Brook, according to athletic director Jim Fiore, who said the school needed 11 buses to trek its students, band and cheerleaders from Long Island.
"The first game I coached here,'' said Pikiell, just finishing his sixth season, "we had seven people at the game, I think.''
The 15-17 record this season was something of a letdown after Stony Brook won 22 games a year ago, took the America East regular-season title and gave Illinois a battle in an NIT home game. But having lost his best player, junior Tommy Brenton, to a knee injury before the season began and having dealt with other injuries all season, Pikiell is convinced "we'll be back. The program's in a good place, and it will remain that way.''
Younger players got much more playing time than expected, and among the more dramatic surprises was sophomore Leonard Hayes. After a 20-point game against Vermont in the semifinals, Hayes was a major boost in the first half Saturday, scoring all of his 14 points and hitting three of his first four three-point attempts to lift his long-distance streak to 16-for-20.
Aside from senior Chris Martin, SBU will get another shot. "This wasn't our time,'' Pikiell said. "But we'll keep trying to knock on the door, keep getting up to the plate, hit a home run next time.