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Stony Brook hosts Illinois in NIT on Wednesday

Stony Brook's Muhammad El-Amin faces off with a

Stony Brook's Muhammad El-Amin faces off with a Boston University player during the America East Tournament, Sunday. March 7, 2010 Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell summed up the Seawolves' year neatly in one brief phrase, "Our season of firsts."

Now Stony Brook is celebrating one last, impressive first. It will make its inaugural visit to the postseason as a host, playing Illinois in the NIT Wednesday night.

"I'm just really happy for our guys," Pikiell said, adding that his players immediately dispersed after a quick team meeting at the athletic center last night, wanting to spread the news. "They've worked really hard. Now we've got a lot of work to do in the next few days."

Stony Brook (22-9) will be joined in the NIT by St. John's, which has been the subject of speculation about a coaching change. St. John's will visit Memphis Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Hard work brought unexpected results for the Seawolves, still making their way in Division I. They won the America East regular-season title, which clinched an NIT berth, and would have hosted the conference championship game and had a good shot at an NCAA bid but lost to Boston University in the semifinals.

"The tournament didn't go the way we wanted it to," Pikiell said. " . . . But this will be exciting around here. This will be a chance to show what a great university we have."

The NIT game will start at 9 p.m. and will be shown on ESPNU. It will be played at Stony Brook Arena, adjacent to Pritchard Gymnasium, the court on which the Seawolves were nearly unbeatable this season. Pritchard is too small for the postseason, so the university spent about $75,000 for emergency renovations on the arena, athletic director Jim Fiore said. He said Stony Brook put in a bid to host an NIT game and heard at about 8:30 last night that the bid had been accepted. Illinois received a No. 1 seed, but Assembly Hall in Champaign is booked Wednesday night for a performance by Cirque du Soleil.

The Illini (19-14) had been on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, having lost a Big Ten semifinal to Ohio State, 88-81, in double overtime Saturday. "I've watched them on TV a few times this year," said Pikiell, who played in The Big Dance with Connecticut, which also is in the NIT. "I know they have a 7-1 center, Mike Tisdale, so we have our work cut out for us."

But just being on the same court will be a win for Stony Brook. "We've never been in the postseason, we've never had a Big Ten team here, we've never been on ESPN," Fiore said. "Now we have all three."

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