WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - Stony Brook won 10 straight games to clinch the America East regular-season title, and when all looked lost after Boston University took a 16-point first-half lead Sunday in the semifinals of the conference tournament, the Seawolves dug in and fought back to lead by five with less than seven minutes to play.
But as Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell said, the top seed in a small league such as this one has to be perfect if it wants to earn the automatic NCAA bid. Stony Brook missed too many free throws (11) and committed too many turnovers (19) in a 70-63 loss to the Terriers, the team of the moment, at the University of Hartford's Chase Arena.
"It's disappointing,'' Pikiell said. "You've got to win every game, and we didn't. We're one game short of our goal for the year, but we had a terrific year and I'm proud of my guys. They played terrific in the second half. We had our chances down the stretch, but we missed a ton of free throws.''
The consolation prize for winning the regular-season title is an automatic berth in the National Invitation Tournament, but the Seawolves (22-9) were hoping to host the America East championship game Saturday and earn an NCAA berth. Instead, second-seeded Vermont will host BU in the final.
That goal of being part of the NCAA field seemed impossible right about the time BU's Corey Lowe buried a three-pointer from at least 35 feet as the shot clock expired to cap a 15-0 run and give the Terriers a 37-21 lead with 22 seconds left in the first half.
BU (19-12) finished fourth in the league, losing twice to Stony Brook, but the Terriers got hot at the right time, winning for the eighth time in the past nine games.
Lowe was brilliant in the first half, when he scored 16 of his 24 points. Carlos Strong added 15 and John Holland and Jake O'Brien each had 10.
But Stony Brook's Bryan Dougher (16 points) hit a three-pointer just before the half ended and made two more after intermission as the Seawolves put together a phenomenal 23-4 run to take a 44-41 lead.
"We knew we had to step up our defensive intensity in the second half,'' Dougher said. "They were guarding low and tight, so I had to step up and hit a few shots.''
Conference player of the year Muhammad El-Amin had 20 points, Chris Martin added 11 points and nine rebounds and Tommy Brenton had 10 rebounds for Stony Brook, which was 10-for-21 from the free-throw line.
Stony Brook's lead reached 53-48 with 6:42 left as Dougher made a free throw for a technical foul on BU coach Patrick Chambers and El-Amin knocked down two foul shots.
Chambers' technical seemed to motivate the Terriers, who were 3-for-19 from the field in the half to that point. They fashioned a 22-10 finishing run, including six points by Lowe.
"That was the dumbest technical foul that a coach could take in a tight game,'' said Chambers, adding that only later did it look good. "It was stupid.''
The Terriers forced El-Amin into several of his eight turnovers and caused Dougher to travel in the final seconds when Stony Brook was trailing by four.
It was a tough way to end for El-Amin, the only senior in the starting lineup.
"We had a good year,'' he said. "We're looking forward to the NIT now.''