Playing in front of almost 19,000 fans in a first-round NCAA tournament game against Syracuse Friday night at Buffalo's HSBC Arena was a new and overwhelming experience for America East tournament champion Vermont, which fell behind 35-11 early and went on to a 79-56 loss. Asked to describe the sensation, Catamounts star Marqus Blakely said it was quite a contrast to playing at 1,500-seat Pritchard Gymnasium, the smallest America East venue.
"When we first walked into the arena and just to see how huge it was and knowing it was going to be packed with Syracuse fans, it was kind of hard to realize that you're there now," Blakely said, referring to the NCAA tournament. "It's not playing Stony Brook and 1,500 [fans]. Packed gyms, screaming fans like this is the real deal."
Actually, playing at Pritchard Gym was plenty real for the Catamounts, who lost, 82-78, as the Seawolves swept the home-and-home series and clinched the regular-season title. Luckily for Vermont, Stony Brook was upset in the conference tournament, which allowed the Catamounts to host the tourney final. Too bad Blakely didn't get to see the Seawolves' NIT game against Illinois in refurbished Stony Brook Arena in front of a standing-room only crowd of 4,400. That looked like the real deal, too.