Monday, March 14, 2016

Stony Brook prepares for next step after finally reaching NCAA Tournament

Following biggest win in program history and ensuing court storm, America East champion Stony Brook gears up for first-ever NCAA Tournament, where Seawolves will face Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

With the mountain finally climbed, the America East championship trophy in tow at his press conference after four unsuccessful attempts to capture it, Steve Pikiell could have ignored all that his program had endured to get to this stage. Instead, the affable coach did not forget where he and his program came from before Saturday afternoon, before Stony Brook 80, Vermont 74 became reality, before the delirium that ensued at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

"It's been an unbelievable journey," he humbly stated after a dominant performance by Jameel Warney enabled him to go from college basketball's Jim Kelly to John Elway, as Stony Brook went from the Buffalo Bills to the Denver Broncos. "Our first game, we played in front of 172 people. Tonight, they're scalping tickets outside. It takes a lot of people to run a basketball program, but it takes some luck, too."

The luck Stony Brook received on Saturday, when it came back from down 15, a deficit that may have felt insurmountable given their past history, turned into Warney putting on a performance for the ages, strapping the Seawolves on his back en route to a 43-point tour de force that tied the conference tournament record for most offense in a single game. They will need more of the same in their NCAA Tournament debut, which comes Thursday night against Kentucky.

"Just to play in this tournament is a complete honor," said Pikiell on Sunday after Stony Brook's opponent was officially revealed, with the Seawolves meeting John Calipari and the Wildcats in Des Moines at 9:40 p.m. on CBS. "To get to play a storied program like Kentucky is really special."

The entire experience is a special one for Stony Brook, reaching this stage for the first time after coming up short so many other times as the favorite. And although the natural instinct among the casual fans filling out a bracket would be to dismiss Long Island's first NCAA Tournament representative since 2001, this is not your typical underdog.

"This is a great university," Pikiell said, again extolling the positive side of his employer, as he has often done throughout his career. "People don't know how special a place this is. This program's never been about me, it's been about our team and our players. I've always believed in our program, and I've always believed in the roster that I've put together."

"I think we've built this program about everybody," he added. "It takes everybody to go to one NCAA Tournament. Our ticket lady did an unbelievable job. We had the best band in the country, we didn't have it in year one or year two, and the dance team, the cheerleaders. We've come a long way."

It took eleven years to reach the promised land. Now the nation gets to see the best-kept secret in the metropolitan area.

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