Seawolves prepare to host the America East Conference championship game for the first time Saturday morning at 11 against Vermont. The school's first NCAA Tournament bid is on the line, and they expect a standing-room-only crowd approaching 5,000 in Stony Brook Arena, which has been refurbished at a cost of about $60,000 to accommodate the lights, cameras and action for ESPN2's national telecast. But athletic director Jim Fiore said there is one true measure of how far the program has come in seven seasons under head coach Steve Pikiell. "You know you're at a really fun point when there are people on line for tickets that you know are scalpers," Fiore said. "There's nothing you can really do about it. When your staff comes to the gym, there are guys waiting there that are going to sell tickets on e-Bay. I think we may have arrived."
Before Thursday's public sale, Fiore said the school took care of its season-ticket holders, students and university personnel. A total of 1,500 bracelets were distributed to students, and there is a waiting list for seats in the 4,400-seat arena, which has a concourse above the seating area for standing-room patrons. Under conference bylaws, the visiting team receives 600 tickets.
"They haven't requested any additional tickets, but they wouldn't get them if they did," Fiore said with a smile. America East officials have distributed 60 media credentials, which surpassed the previous high when former member Hofstra hosted the title game in 2000 and 2001.
"We could have sold 8,000 seats for this thing," Fiore added.
This game is a benchmark in the evolution of Stony Brook athletics. It also might be the final game in Stony Brook Arena in its current condition. It's expected that state funds for a $22 million renovation project that have been frozen since 2008 will be released later this year.
If Stony Brook loses to Vermont, it is guaranteed an NIT bid. In that case, it's possible the school could host a first-round matchup, as it did two years ago against Illinois. Fiore is hoping the Seawolves' next game will be in the NCAA First Four on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
To make their first NCAA appearance, Stony Brook (22-8) must beat the second-place Catamounts (22-11) to record their 21st win in the past 23 games. Home teams have won 25 of 28 America East finals, including Boston University's victory over the Seawolves last season.
"It's huge," senior guard Bryan Dougher said of the homecourt advantage. "We've had a lot of home success over the past few years, especially this year going undefeated at home [13-0 in Pritchard Gym]. We'll be in front of our fans that have been so loyal these past few years. We're really excited about it."
Senior forward Dallis Joyner, whose buzzer-beating tip-in in a 57-55 semifinal win over Albany six days ago in Hartford gave No. 1 seed Stony Brook the chance to host the title game, said: "It's everything. You couldn't write it up any better. It's a euphoric feeling being able to go back home. Our fans really deserve it, and our coaches deserve it because they work so hard. It feels good to be able to pay those guys back with a home game for the championship in our last year."