Grabbing the microphone after the presentation of his second America East regular-season title trophy in three seasons Sunday at Pritchard Gym, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell was ebullient after a clinching 55-48 victory over Maine gave the Seawolves a 20-8 overall record and 14-2 conference mark.
The coach then proceeded to thank the "best band in America, the cheerleaders, the community and these seniors. I'm proud of you -- 14-2 is the most-ever in school history. Great job!"
Pikiell was no less effusive and emotional when he met with the media after the game. He brought all four seniors -- Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner, Al Rapier and Danny Carter. Those four scored the Seawolves' first four baskets and provided much of the energy for a great defensive effort in holding their second straight opponent below 50 points.
"I'm just proud of these guys," Pikiell said. "They've done a lot for the program. They're all graduating. They've been the best, and they've gotten better. Dallis has had as good a senior year as you can have. Al comes out of nowhere and has a great senior year. And Danny Carter has been our best team defender for four years. He gets no credit. He's taken the most charges of any player that's ever played here. Then, today he steps up and makes the big defensive play and the free throws.
"Bryan has a 3.84 grade point this semester. He's going to be the leading scorer in school history. He's never missed one day of practice, never missed a game. Durable, tough. It's a tribute to these guys. They've done a great job. Hopefully, we've got some good games left in us and we'll take care of business in Hartford, and we'll be able to come back here and see everybody."
Of course, Pikiell was referring to the upcoming America East tournament. Stony Brook opens at noon on Saturday at Hartford University as the No. 1 seed against the winner of the UMBC-Binghamton play-in game. If the Seawolves win that game and Sunday's semifinal against the Albany-New Hampshire winner, they will play host to the championship game at 11a.m. on Saturday, March 10.
Although Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore says it will cost from $75,000 to $100,000 to refurbish 4,500-seat Stony Brook Arena, that's what SBU will do in order to meet the minimum seating requirement for the nationally televised title game. The Seawolves have sold out the last two times they've done that for the NIT loss to Illinois in 2010 and for last season's nationally televised Maine game. It's worth the cost because they have to set aside 600 tickets for the visitor, and the last thing they want to do is have to travel possibly to Vermont or Boston after losing last year's title game on a last-second foul call at BU to miss the automatic NCAA berth.
"We've been talking all season about getting that home game for the championship," Dougher said. "Vermont is a tough place to play. They have loud, loyal fans. It's big for us not to have to go back up there. They can come here and see what our fans are all about."
Stony Brook lost to the Catamounts by 19 two weeks ago in Burlington. It appeared they would lose the conference title because Vermont merely had to win its final three games against easy opposition to get the No. 1 seed on a tiebreaker. But the Catamounts (13-3 America East) suffered an inexplicable loss at previously winless Binghamton on Tuesday to open the door for the Seawolves.
It was a virtual miracle. But Joyner (pictured) recalled that assistant coach Dan Rickard told the Seawolves before they visited Binghamton that the Bearcats would upset someone this year. "He said he didn't know who it was going to be against, but they were going to win a game," Joyner said. "Binghamton is a tough place to play. I never lost faith. I knew that every team in this league could beat you."
The Seawolves need to remember that as they head to Hartford for the conference tournament. A possible semifinal meeting with BU looms as the major stumbling block to hosting the title game.
But in the meantime, this senior class has a right to enjoy their second title in three seasons. "It's a tremendous honor," Carter said. "We all came in together with Tommy [Brenton, a redshirt junior] and Al [Rapier, a transfer] came in later. But we came in fearless.
"It didn't really matter to us what the history was. We were going to make our own history. We did that a little bit, and we're not finished yet. We've got a couple more games to play. We're going to have a good week of practice and then on to Hartford. We're going to play Stony Brook basketball and see what happens."