Stony Brook senior Muhammad El-Amin
Call this Revenge Week for Stony Brook. With Maine and then Binghamton coming to the Seawolves' door at Pritchard Gymnasium, it was a chance to repay the only two America East teams that had beaten them this season.
Coach Steve Pikiell's team did that in outstanding fashion, hanging a 19-point loss on Maine last Wednesday and following up with an 81-61 victory over Binghamton Saturday night. "We knew this week, it could have kept us in first or taken us down to fourth," said Muhammed El-Amin, who had a career-high 31 points against the Bearcats. "We didn't want to get swept by Maine or get swept by Binghamton. We knew these were must-wins."
There was a packed house at Pritchard to witness a little bit of history, Stony Brook's first time beating every America East opponent in one season. The wins kept the Seawolves (18-7) in first place with a 10-2 conference record with road games remaining against UMBC, Albany and New Hampshire and one more home date against second-place Vermont on Feb. 24.
People obviously are starting to notice. The parking lot was crowded before game time, and there were no bare spots in the stands, though it must be said there was a vocale section occupied by Binghamton students behind the Bearcats' bench. "It was a great environment today," Pikiell said. "I want to thank the students and the community and the band. I'm real pleased they're coming out and supporting this team. They work hard, they play defense, we play together. I'm just real pleased at the whole setup, and it was a good win against a talented team."
Just as they did against Maine, the Seawolves took control from the outset against Binghamton (11-16, 6-6). Marcus Rouse hit back-to-back threes to give Stony Brook an early 17-7 cushion, and the lead went as high as 18 points before settling at 47-33 at halftime.
"The crowd helps a lot," El-Amin said. "The crowd brings a good atmosphere. We love them, and we like to show them a good time."
It's been a long time coming for El-Amin, ,but he's seeing the work he's put in to building the program begin to pay off. "It's been good," El-Amin said. "Last year, we knew we were inexperienced. But this year, during the summer, we knew we were going to have a good team coming this year. We all meshed together, and we all came here with the focus of winning the championship this year."
Pikiell didn't want to look that far ahead, preferring to focus on UMBC, the Wolves' next opponent. But he admitted it's nice to beat every team in the league. If they win the regular-season title, the Seawolves would be assured of at least an NIT bid. To reach the NCAA tournament, they have to win the conference tournament, which begins with the first three rounds in Hartford.
"It was nice to beat every team in the league, which we have never done," Pikiell said. "To go through the league and know you're getting on that bus going to Hartford [for the conference tournament], knowing you beat everybody is a good feeling."