WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - If, as the old line goes, dancing is a contact sport, then Stony Brook just may be ready for that NCAA formal that commences later this month.
Tightly embracing Vermont - and not in an affectionate way - No. 5 seed Stony Brook brought a smothering defense against the America East Tournament's top seed and waltzed to a 69-47 semifinal win Sunday.
The surprising result - and fairly shocking ease of it - helped Stony Brook turn a below-.500 season on its head over the weekend, setting up a conference championship final against Boston University at noon Saturday in Boston, with the winner welcome to participate in March Madness.
Vermont (23-8) never led; in fact, never even gained a tie as the league's two best defensive teams hunkered down for a bruising scrap that soon was turned into an exhibition of versatile basketball. Stony Brook (15-16) showed all its colors: ball movement, dead-eye shooting, collapsing double-teaming.
Sophomore Leonard Hayes, who didn't crash the starting lineup until 12 games ago, embodied his team's better-late-than-never performance with a career-high 20 points, shooting 6-for-7 from the three-point line.
Each time Vermont showed the least inclination to mount even the slightest challenge, Hayes would drop the hammer with another three-pointer - when Stony Brook led 40-34 (the closest Vermont had been since the first half), and again at 47-38, and again at 54-44.
The basket was not getting any larger, Hayes insisted, though it appeared that way each time he fired. His lasers - so unlike Stony Brook's midseason scattershot offense - led to a contagion of hot hands.
"Lenny made some big shots and it just carried on,'' said guard Chris Martin, the team's only senior, who again was spared his final college game. "We just ran with it.''
Martin was a victim of the foul-a-minute early going, twice whistled for infractions in the first three minutes and forced to the bench the rest of the half. But he started the second half with a knifing layup on Dallis Joyner's assist and wound up with 14 points, three rebounds and three assists in only 21 minutes.
As impressive as limiting Vermont to 32-percent shooting (14-for-44), and holding leading scorers Evan Fjeld, Joey Accaoui and Brendan Bald to a total of 19 points - half their usual total of 38 - was the way Stony Brook's team filled up the boxscore.
Bryan Dougher had only two points, 11 below his average, and shot 1-for-9, but he did have team highs in assists (four) and steals (three). Al Rapier had eight points and six rebounds.
Beyond his scoring, Hayes had six rebounds and two blocked shots. "First of my career,'' he said with a grin.
Ten players scored, nine players got rebounds and six got assists for Stony Brook, which shot 48 percent. "One thing about all our injuries this year,'' coach Steve Pikiell said, "is that we played a lot of guys a lot of minutes, and that's why I had a lot of faith in all my guys.''
And this time, all of them had happy feet.