Stony Brook's Al Rapier (21) drives to the hoop against...

Stony Brook's Al Rapier (21) drives to the hoop against Vermont's Matt Glass (34) in the first half of the America East final against the University of Vermont at Stony Brook University. (March 10, 2012) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The disappointment was evident. Bryan Dougher's voice broke once, then a second time when he was asked how it felt to lose a game that prevented Stony Brook University from obtaining the ultimate prize in college basketball.

There will be no NCAA Tournament bid for Stony Brook after Saturday's 51-43 loss to Vermont in the America East Tournament championship game, but there is little time to grieve. The season is not over. Stony Brook has a spot in the NIT.

By winning the America East regular-season title, the Seawolves gained an automatic bid to the NCAA's other dance. Pairings will be announced Sunday night.

The secondary prize began to resonate with the players when coach Steve Pikiell said, "Last year at this time, our season was done.''

When it lost to Boston University by two points in the conference championship game a year ago, Stony Brook had nowhere to go. That is not the case this time. "I don't think we'll ever get over it,'' Dougher said of again being denied the NCAA bid, "but we have to put it past us and focus on whoever we have in the NIT. We're excited to keep playing. You never want your college career to end. To have an extra game or how many we win, that's exciting for us.''

Stony Brook has not had an NCAA bid in 13 Division I seasons. The program earned five bids in D-III, the last in 1990-91 under coach Joe Castiglie.

Dougher, a senior guard, was held to eight points Saturday but now holds the team's D-I record for most career points with 1,597. With at least one more game in the NIT, that number figures to increase.

Senior forward Dallis Joyner said, "I'm going to try to go into the NIT with the most positive view I can. You don't want to lose your last game. I'm going in the NIT and play my heart out, get a win, a few wins.

"Our first goal was to win the conference because you are assured postseason play. Obviously, we wanted the NCAA bid really bad, but we just weren't able to get it. Now we'll fall back on what we worked for all season.''

For junior guard Lenny Hayes, it's about keeping the uniform on. "A lot of teams are done right now,'' he said. "So it's a positive that we get to keep on playing.''

Pikiell knows the best way to distance the team from the Vermont loss is to accentuate the positive of the NIT. "They'll get up for it,'' he said, "and I'll get up for it, too.''

It will be the Seawolves' second NIT appearance. They hosted Illinois two years ago, playing competitively in a 76-66 loss before 4,423 at Stony Brook Arena. "We proved we can hang with the big boys,'' Dougher said. "Hopefully we'll get a home game. Wherever we go, we're going to play hard.''

Pikiell wants his team to realize that making the NIT is not a secondary achievement.

"It was a huge thing to win the conference,'' he said. "In leagues like this, to lock up a postseason anything is huge. I never brought it up, never talked about it, but it was a huge accomplishment.

"Brian's a great leader, Dallis is great, they all want to play. We'll get them together, we'll watch the NIT pairings. We'll have a great week of preparation and have some fun with it. We're still playing, we're excited about that. We got a postseason bid. We're going to go and try to play great in the NIT.''