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America East Championship Preview: #5 Stony Brook at #2 Boston

A trip to the NCAA Tournament and a conference championship are on the line Saturday as the fifth-seeded Seawolves will face second-seed Boston University in the finals of the 2011 America East Championship. This is Stony Brook’s first appearance in the title game.

In previous rounds of the conference tournament last weekend, the Seawolves played like the team everyone expected them to be in preseason, erasing memories of their less-than-spectacular regular season. They defeated Albany 67-61 and then upset top-seeded Vermont 69-47. Stony Brook shot 48 percent from the field in both games and held both teams to under 35 percent shooting.

Senior guard Chris Martin (Springfield Gardens, N.Y.) is averaging 16 points and four assists in the tournament to lead the Seawolves.

“He’s been awesome,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “He gives us a dimension we didn’t have when he was hurt. He’s been very good and I hope he continues that for 40 more minutes.”

Martin missed 13 games after suffering a knee injury in the middle of the season. He has been playing with a sense of urgency, asserting himself in both games to ensure victory because he knows his career will be over if they lose.

“This is my last opportunity to help this team get a bid to the NCAA Tournment,” he said. “That’s why I was recruited and we’re 40 minutes away.”

This will be the third straight game the Seawolves will face an opponent who swept them in the regular season. They were able to avenge the losses to Albany and Vermont, so Pikiell believes the past doesn’t matter.

“We’re playing good basketball right now,” he said. “We can’t do anything about the past, so those games don’t matter. We’re a different team now.”

Boston University is led by America East Player of the Year John Holland, who is averaging 18.9 points per game against conference opponents. He is averaging 23 points in two games against Stony Brook.

“We definitely have to play him better,” Pikiell said. “But the key is to stop the other guys from chipping in. We can withstand Holland’s scoring, but we can’t let the other guys kill us too.”

The “other guys” Pikiell is referring to are Darryl Partin and Patrick Hazel. Partin was named to the All-America East first team after averaging 14.9 points per game and putting together nine 20-point performances during the season. Hazel was named to the conference all-defensive team.

While the Seawolves will be going into this game with confidence, they are aware of the magnitude of it. They had extensive film sessions and walkthroughs to make sure they will be prepared for whatever the Terriers throw at them.

Before playing the biggest game of his life, Martin took the time to reflect on his final season as a Seawolf.

“It’s been a pleasure playing with my guys,” he said. “I just want to leave it all out there and be the first team in school history to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.”

Stony Brook will reportedly be sending 11 fan buses to Boston. Pikiell said the team really appreciates the support they get from the students.

“I want to win for this university,” Pikiell said. “I want to win for the students, for the president, for the athletics director, for everyone. A lot of people do a lot of things for us and I want to pay them back. It would be a great thing for our school.”

The game will be televised on ESPN2 and will also be available to stream online on ESPN3.com. Radio broadcast will be available on WUSB 90.1 FM.  Tipoff is set for 12 p.m.

(Updated with final number of buses.)

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