Captain Ahab had his white whale, and Stony Brook's basketball team has Vermont.
In the past six seasons, the Seawolves have topped the 20-win mark five times, but they are 6-8 against the Catamounts in that span and have a five-game losing streak at Patrick Gym in Burlington, Vermont, where the two schools will meet in an America East Tournament semifinal game Sunday afternoon.
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The teams tied for second in the conference at 12-4, but the game is being played at second-seeded Vermont (18-12) because the Catamounts swept the season series against third-seeded Stony Brook (22-10). The last meeting was particularly galling for Stony Brook, which held a 17-point lead with just over 13 minutes left before losing to visiting Vermont, 57-48, on Feb. 7. The Catamounts finished the game on a 36-10 run.
So the Seawolves have some mental barriers to overcome when they take the court in Burlington, where they last won on Jan. 21, 2010. The five losses since then at Patrick Gym were by an average of 16.0 points, with the closest an eight-point decision.
To reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time, the Seawolves must beat Vermont and the winner of the other semifinal between fourth-seeded New Hampshire and top-seeded Albany.
Putting a positive spin on it, America East player of the year Jameel Warney noted that the Seawolves are on a seven-game winning streak since the Feb. 7 loss to Vermont.
"It made us who we are now,'' Warney said. "We respect every opponent more now. We haven't given up a 17-point lead ever since that. It was a turning point for us. We matured, and now we can't wait to play them.''
To score an upset against Vermont, which is led by Ethan O'Day (11.9 points per game), the Seawolves will need strong games from Warney (16.2 points, 11.5 rebounds per game) and fellow first-team all-conference player Carson Puriefoy III (13.9 points).
"Obviously, it's not something we want to do again, but we're confident going into Vermont,'' Puriefoy said of the last loss. "We know they're a good team, but we're also a good team. We're on a streak right now. We're playing good basketball, and we want to keep the momentum going into Vermont.''