FILE - Stony Brook University's Bryan Dougher controls the ball...

FILE - Stony Brook University's Bryan Dougher controls the ball against Boston University during the second half of the NCAA Division I mens basketball game. (Feb. 4, 2011) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Several schools among our local Division I contingent took a big step toward earning NCAA/NIT tourney berths. No one has locked anything up, but the level of optimism is rising.

Hofstra, sparked by 23 points from Charles Jenkins, knocked off Delaware, 61-58, for a key road win on Saturday. How important was the win? The Pride (17-9, 11-4 CAA) held on to its two-game lead over Drexel (17-8, 9-6) and kept pace with Old Dominion (20-6, 11-4). With three conference games left, Hofstra needs to win just two of them to secure at least fourth place. The top four teams in the CAA get a first-round bye in the tournament.

Hofstra actually has an outside shot at first place. It would take a mini collapse on the part for first-place George Mason for that to happen, but stranger things have occurred. As long as Jenkins is on his game, Hofstra has the potential to do a lot. Jenkins has had a lot of help from the likes of Mike Moore and David Imes. Brad Kelleher has settled in nicely at the point, while Greg Washington continues to provide good defense in the paint. He's also become a more consistent scorer.

Pride coach Mo Cassara was particularly pleased with his team’s ability to win another close game on the road. Hofstra is 6-2 on the road in the CAA.

Said Cassara: “Number one, we continue to find ways to perform well on the road, which is so important in this league. Number two, we have developed an incredible will to win in close games. We might have missed some defensive assignments and we might have given them a chance to get back in the game, but we found a way to gut out the win.”

Stony Brook is back. After an ugly stretch in January, the Seawolves are back in effect. Stony Brook (11-14, 6-7 America East) dropped six of seven games to start the New Year. They have won four of six games since, including Saturday’s thrilling 71-67 overtime win against Maine. Bryan Dougher had all 20 of his points in the second half and overtime.

The biggest thing about Saturday’s wasn’t even the win. It the atmosphere at the Indoor Sports Complex. The Stony Brook faithful were out in full force. It was a great showing on ESPNU for a program that has been on an upward progression the last few years. If there's one thing Stony Brook is beginning to become accustomed to, it's putting on a big show. I was at the Seawolves first-round NIT home game against Illinois last year and their regular season home tilt against Villanova a few years ago. The student body at Stony Brook can get loud when it wants to. And their prep band, which is still in its infancy, has really made it a great homecourt advantage.

The Seawolves aren’t at .500, but they have four games left against winnable teams –Albany, Manhattan, Hartford, Binghamton. An above-.500 finish overall and in the America East is not out of the question. Steve Pikiell was pleased with the support shown by the student body.

Said Pikiell: “I want to thank everyone who came out to our game today," head coach Steve Pikiell. "It was a tremendous crowd, and it was a proud day to be a member of the Stony Brook community. We played a great game, battled some adversity and fought back. I'm proud of our defensive effort against the best offense in the league. We're starting to play better, and I like the direction we're headed in.”

LIU is still cruising. C.J. Garner hit a running jumper as time expired to lift the Blackbirds to an 82-80 win over St. Francis, N.Y. on Saturday in the “Battle of Brooklyn”. LIU (20-5, 12-2) has won six in a row and its 11th straight on the road. It’s also the first time since the 1997-1998 season that LIU has won 20 games. The Blackbirds haven’t made the post season since the 1998, when they earned an NIT bid. Their last NCAA appearance was in 1996-1997. With a two-game lead over Central Connecticut and four games left, LIU is on track to clinch the Northeast regular season title.

For anyone looking for St. John's, my colleague Greg Logan will post something later today.

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