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Stony Brook upsets Vermont to go to first-ever America East Championship game

Lenny Hayes, who scored 20 against Vermont, looks inside. (Photo: John Tocabens)

See also:  Blog Replay :::  Final Stats

HARTFORD, Conn. — The bleachers at Chase Family Arena in Hartford rocked as the red horde bounced up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs: “I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!”

Their beliefs were justified, as the #5 Stony Brook Seawolves pulled off an upset of the finest quality, knocking off the regular-season champion Vermont Catamounts, 69-47, Sunday night in the America East semifinals.

The result means thatStony Brook will make its first ever appearance in the America East championship game, playing at #2 Boston University at noon on Saturday (ESPN2).

“I love the way we played today,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “This is a great win for our university and a great win for our program after all the adversity we faced this year. I really want to thank our community for coming out, our guys like it when the fans are here.”

Sophomore Leonard Hayes (Voorhees, N.J.) led the way with 20 points, knocking down a career-high six three pointers. He also tied for the team-high with six rebounds.

Chris Martin (Springfield Gardens, N.Y.) added 14 points.

This was the Seawolves’ first win in three appearances in the semifinals game. The victory was especially special for Martin, who is the team’s only senior.

“Last year we were in the same position and I told my guys you don’t want to go home with that same feeling,” Martin said. “I told them just play hard for 40 minutes. We got a great win.”

The Seawolves got scoring contributions from 10 of the 13 players that saw playing time and finished the game shooting 48 percent from the floor and 53 percent from three-point land.

Stony Brook put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the year, holding the potent offense of Vermont, which came into the game ranked second in the conference in scoring and field goal percentage, to just 31 percent from the floor on just 14 field goals. The Catamounts never led, nor even tied the game. The Seawolves forced 16 turnovers and turned them into 18 points.

It was clear that Stony Brook came into the game with a defensive mindset from the opening tip, holding Vermont scoreless for almost four minutes. A deep jumper from Bryan Dougher (Scotch Plains, N.J.) gave Stony Brook a 15-8 lead and forced Vermont to call a timeout with 10:13 left. It took the Catamounts over 10 minutes to reach the 10-point mark.

A pull-up jumper from Dave Coley (Brooklyn, N.Y.) would give the Seawolves a 10-point lead at 27-17 with four minutes left in the half. They would go into halftime with a 27-20 lead after limiting Vermont to just six field goals.

Stony Brook would open the second half with a 13-5 run that was capped by a Hayes three-pointer.

The Catamounts then switched to a zone defense that proved to be effective as the Seawolves struggled to move the ball. They cut the lead to six at 40-34, energizing the large Vermont contingent that made the trip from Burlington. But Martin would then find Hayes open for a three-pointer that silenced the crowd and gave Stony Brook back the momentum.

The Seawolves really started to open it up, passing the ball around the zone and usually finding Hayes open for a three pointer. After his sixth triple of the game pushed the lead to 57-44 and Vermont answered with a couple free throws, forward Al Rapier (Chicago, Ill.) would take the in-bounds pass coast to coast for a huge one-handed slam that sent the Stony Brook fans into a frenzy.

Stony Brook would cruise to victory, holding the Catamounts to one point over the last four minutes of the game.

Vermont was led by Brian Voelkel, who scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. No other player scored in double figures. Star forward Evan Fjeld was held to just four points after injuring his back midway through the second half.

The Seawolves may not have had the season they were hoping for, but winning both games in Hartford is good enough for Pikiell.

“Last year we had a great season, this year all we wanted was a great weekend,” Pikiell said.

Stony Brook will now face Boston University in the championship game. The Terriers are led by America East Player of the Year John Holland, who scored 16 points in their win over Hartford on Sunday.

This will be the third straight game the Seawolves will face an opponent who swept them in the regular season.Still, they feel they are playing their best basketball and they are going into the game with a lot of confidence.

“It’s about us right now, it’s about Stony Brook,” Martin said.

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