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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Seawolves Clinch America East Title

No one said it would be easy. Vermont, the perennial conference heavyweight, was not going to endure a barrage of three pointers from Bryan Dougher,  or  Dallis Joyner’s two-handed dunks, forever. The Catamounts weren’t going to let Muhammad El-Amin hit pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper without any retaliation. They were going to fight back. That’s what the team with the two-time defending America East Player of the Year does.  It fights back, and muscles you into submission.

But Wednesday night, the Seawolves weren’t ready to fold, as they’ve done in years past. This isn’t the same squad that was ranked 328th of 328 teams in all of Division I men’s college basketball five years ago.

With a sea of red-hot Stony Brook students, staff and faculty in attendance, they forcefully pinned the Catamounts against the wall. Despite having a 20-point lead dwindle down to only three with under a minute to go, Stony Brook stood head and shoulders above the conference bully.

The Seawolves clinched the top conference seed with an 82-78 win, simultaneously validating the buzz that has been swarming the campus for the past few weeks.

For 40 minutes, the home team’s arms were longer. Their feet were quicker and they seemed to feed off the energy bouncing off the walls of Pritchard Gymnasium, where the Seawolves have not lost all year. Going undefeated at home is a first for Stony Brook, in a season that has been full of firsts. Besides securing the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time in its Division I history, it was also the first time Stony Brook basketball fans have gotten to taste this.

As the final buzzer sounded, many of those in the sold-out crowd stormed the court, celebrating with their Seawolves and enjoying being number one.

“I believe that we have won! I believe that we have won!” the team shouted in a joyous huddle, with freshman guard Preye Preboye leading the chant from the center of the circle. Strangers hugged, laughed, and took photos.

Head Coach Steve Pikiell took the microphone, thanking Marching Band Director John Leddy and “the best band in America,” all the students in attendance, calling them the “best fans in America,” and his assistant coaches, who were also deemed the best in America. He thanked his seniors, who had played their last regular-season game at Pritchard, and thanked the players who made this all possible.

This has been a long time coming. “This program has come so far,” said Coach Pikiell in the post-game press conference, “For five years, we talked about going from worst to first. Today, we’ve lived it.”

To do it, the Seawolves had to overcome the second-seeded Catamounts and their superstar power-forward,  Marqus Blakely.

They spent four days preparing for the walking double-double, who hit them for 17 points and 11 rebounds the last time they met. Dallis Joyner, who wears the same jersey number as Blakely, 23, drew the assignment.

But the Seawolves threw constant double-teams Blakely’s way, frustrating him into turnovers and contested shots. In the battle of the number 23 jersey, Joyner was victorious, celebrating his 20th birthday by tallying a career-high 20 points and pulling down eight boards.

Late in the first half, Tommy Brenton fought off Blakely for a rebound, sending the Vermont big man’s 6-foot 5-inch, 255-pound frame to the floor. Joyner threw down a two-handed jam on the other end, in what was perhaps the best five-second summary of the game.

Wednesday night, the Seawolves were tougher. Their energy was on a higher level. With El-Amin leading in scoring with 23 points, the Seawolves chose their last home game to shoot a season-high 54.7 percent from the floor.

The years of ruling out a lengthy post-season run are over, and the conference bottom-dwellers have clawed, fought, and climbed their way up. They are 2009-2010 regular-season champions, and will get a championship ring to remember this rollercoaster ride of a season.

The only thing that would make it more memorable is an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament once the conference tournament kicks off March 4th. Before then, the Seawolves still have to face New Hampshire on the road Saturday. But the game plan for Saturday’s game against the Wildcats is the furthest thing from the Seawolves’ minds right now.

“I haven’t even thought about New Hampshire,” said Coach Pikiell, “I just want our guys to enjoy this, to enjoy the moment for a few seconds.”

And, as hard as they’ve played this season, they should.

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