BURLINGTON, Vt. — A veteran University of Vermont basketball team coolly converted free throws and feasted on Stony Brook turnovers to roll to a 70-51 America East semifinal victory at Patrick Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Catamounts (27-6) converted 29 of 37 free throws against the foul-plagued Seawolves (13-19), who were 10-for-14 from the line.
Vermont also picked up 19 points off Stony Brook turn overs. The Seawolves, who forced 17 turnovers in a 69-60 loss Feb. 29, caused just seven turnovers that led to two points Tuesday.
“Hats off to Vermont. Coach [John] Becker does a phenomenal job . . . fifth-year senior, fifth-year senior, senior, senior, fourth-year junior, they’re an experienced group out there that knows how to win,” Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals said.
“The biggest thing is they don’t beat themselves. They’re poised, they take care of the basketball, multiple guys can pass, dribble, shoot and more importantly they know how to win. That’s a great team right there.”
Neither side excelled in a ragged first half. The Seawolves’ aggressive start produced a quick 5-4 lead, the last time Vermont trailed. By halftime, the Catamounts led 30-21.
“Frankly, one of our worst 20 minutes in awhile and we’re still down nine at halftime,” Boals said. “We could never get over the hump. They’re not going to give it to you. We could never get that score-stop-score that we needed to get back in the game.”
Once play resumed after the intermission, Elijah Olaniyi scored and a three-pointer from Akwasi Yeboah quickly cut Vermont’s lead to 30-26. The Seawolves never moved any closer as the Catamounts steadily stretched out their lead primarily by converting free throws.
“I don’t know if we fouled 29 times all year,” Boals said of Stony Brook’s foul total. “We did a great job on guarding their actions. Obviously the fouling was a big part of it. To [allow] 29 points from the free-throw line, you’re not going to win many games like that.
“It’s tough when you’re in the double bonus with 15 minutes left in the second half. Thiry-seven free throws . . . they’re not going to lose too many games when they’re shooting 37 free throws.”
Of his team’s win, Becker said, “A great, great effort against a tough Stony Brook team that was playing really good basketball at the end of the year.”
Yeboah led Stony Brook with 15 points. Olaniyi added 13 and Jordan McKenzie scored 11.
America East player of the year Trae Bell-Haynes managed only six points but teammates Drew Urquhart was 11-for-15 from the line en route to a 19-point night.
The victory puts Vermont into Saturday’s America East championship game for the third straight year, this time against UMBC.