It had to be tough for Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell and the Seawolves to watch the ESPN2 telecast of Vermont (25-9) taking apart Boston University (19-13) in a decisive 83-70 victory in the America East championship game this afternoon. Talk about an opportunity lost.
Stony Brook (22-9) swept both teams home and away during the regular season but fell victim to a hot streak by BU in the first two rounds of the tournament last weekend in Hartford. Even so, the Seawolves came back from a 14-point first-half deficit to lead by five in the second half only to lose, 70-63. The Terriers had 11 steals in that game and turned Stony Brook over 19 times, and that's really where the game was lost.
Forced to travel to Vermont for the conference final, the Terriers didn't look nearly as good today. Corey Lowe played well again with 24 points and they got 17 from Jake O'Brien, but league-leading scorer John Holland came up small with nine on 3-of-11 shooting and was settling for three-pointers late when he needed to use his size to get to the basket.
The homecourt advantage was huge for Vermont, which has a passionate following. The Catamounts' comfort level was obvious as they shot 57.8 percent from the field and made 8 of 14 three-pointers, including all four taken by Nick Vier, who totaled 15 points. Maurice Joseph added 13 points, but it was former two-time America East player of the year Marqus Blakely who was utterly dominant. He scored 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added 18 rebounds and five assists.
When Blakely played at Stony Brook in the game that decided the regular-season conference title, he scored only 14 points and had five rebounds. Imagine if the Seawolves had survived that semifinal against BU and hosted the title game today. True, it would have been their first game in Stony Brook Arena instead of Pritchard Gym, but with a rowdy home crowd behind them, they might be dancing in the streets this afternoon celebrating an NCAA bid.
As it is, Stony Brook earned an automatic NIT berth as regular-season champ, and that's a nice consolation. But despite the preparations they made to make Stony Brook Arena playable again, it's unlikely they will get a home game. According to NIT policy, the higher-seeded team gets the home game in each matchup unless its arena is unavailable.
The tournament field and first-round matchups are expected to be announced around 9 p.m. Sunday night. The Seawolves would have to win three games on the road most likely to make it to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals.