Stony Brook’s men’s basketball team will enter the America East Tournament in a few weeks with a chance to earn its second straight NCAA bid. Or its season will end. That’s the reality of many mid-major conferences.
Sunday’s 67-66 victory over visiting Maine — on Roland Nyama’s tiebreaking free throw with five-tenths of a second remaining — improved the Seawolves’ record to 15-10 overall and 10-2 in the conference. They are second to Vermont (23-5, 13-0).
Therein lies the issue. Vermont is closing in on the regular- season title, which carries an automatic bid to the NIT. That bid will not default to the second-place team, likely to be Stony Brook, if Vermont gets an NCAA berth. “At this point, you’re playing for the NCAA bid or bust, really,’’ Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said.
The focus, therefore, is on overtaking Vermont, which beat the Seawolves, 71-64, last month. The two will meet again Feb. 25 in the regular-season finale.
“We know they’re a really good team,’’ senior guard Lucas Woodhouse said. “They’re at the top right now; everybody’s coming for them. We know we have to go through them . . . We still got to win games in the conference tournament. We can’t look ahead.’’
Maine (6-22, 2-11) did just about everything but win Sunday’s game as it outrebounded (40-30) and outshot the Seawolves (46.2-39.3 percent). The Black Bears went ahead by 11 points midway through the first half and tied the score at 66 on Jaquan McKennon’s free throw with 27 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Woodhouse lobbed the ball into Nyama (career-high 26 points), who was fouled as he jumped in front of the basket. He made the first free throw, then intentionally missed the second, but after rebounding the miss and calling a timeout, Maine had only three-tenths of a second left and never got off a shot as Bryan Sekunda intercepted the inbounds pass.
Woodhouse had 11 points and Jakub Petras added nine. Wes Myers had 22 for Maine.
In many other conferences, the Seawolves’ record already would have put them in good position for a postseason berth, First-year coach Jeff Boals, who assisted for seven years at Ohio State in the Big Ten, accepts the situation.
“I like it from the fact that the league champion, you’ve earned the right to play in the postseason,’’ he said. “So if they stub their toe, they still get rewarded for it. It’s a tough break if they do go [to the NCAA Tournament] and [the NIT bid] gets wiped out, but I think that’s just part of it.’’
That doesn’t mean Boals is conceding anything to Vermont. “In case they do get upset, which hopefully they do in the tournament, and somebody else goes to the NCAA Tournament, they still have something to go to,’’ he said.
And if the Seawolves pull the upset in the conference tournament, so will they.