STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Saturday was supposed to be an historic day for the Stony Brook Seawolves.
After completing its best regular season in school history, top-seeded Stony Brook (22-9) was poised to capture its first NCAA tournament berth, but stifling defense and the long-range sharpshooting of freshman guard Four McGlynn led the Vermont Catamounts (23-11) to their fifth America East conference tournament championship in a 51-43 victory before a sellout crowd of 4,423 fans at the USB Sports Complex.
McGlynn, the conference rookie of the year, born Patrick McGlynn IV, appropriately made four three-pointers (on seven attempts) while wearing uniform number four, to lead all scorers with 14 points, as he helped Vermont lead by as much as 17 points midway through the second half.
The Catamounts unexpected big lead was just enough to allow Vermont to hang on down the stretch and overcome some odds that were heavily in the Seawolves’ favor.
Entering the game, the home team had won 25 of the previous 28 times the conference tournament final was played on the court of the highest remaining seed.
And, Stony Brook hadn’t lost at home all season – including a 65-59 win over Vermont on January 2nd (avenged by the Catamounts in Vermont, in a 68-49 win on February 12th) – but that was at the small 1,700-seat Pritchard Gymnasium, where the Seawolves continue to play while awaiting construction to be completed on a new arena.
However, conference rules dictate that the tournament final be played in a building that seats at least 3,000 fans.
Senior guard Bryan Dougher (eight points) didn’t blame the venue change for his team’s loss after each team barely escaped with semifinal wins in Hartford, six days earlier. “Obviously, it’s a little bit different, but we shot in here all week,” he said. “So, it shouldn’t have been a factor.”
Head coach Steve Pikiell even recognized the Stony Brook’s backup home court as something that should have helped his team. “It was a great environment,” he said of the raucous crowd which was deafening as the Seawolves made one last charge to get back in the game during the final minutes.
Despite history indicating otherwise, the Catamounts weren’t phased by the prospect of having to win their league title on the road. “We were loose coming in and felt the pressure was on them playing at home,” senior forward and Vermont native Matt Glass (seven points).
Buoyed by that confidence, Vermont – which leads the nation with 33 road wins over the past three seasons –quieted the building with a fast start, as five different Catamounts scored while Vermont grabbed an 11-4 and forced a Stony Brook time out 6:53 into the game.
After missing his first three shots from the field, Dougher made a left-wing three-pointer to start a 5-2 Seawolves’ run. The basket moved Dougher into first-place all-time on the schools’ Division I scoring list with 1,592 career points at the time.
But, the severely disappointed guard took no solace in that personal accomplishment after missing out on his last chance to reach his first NCAA tournament.
On whether achieving the record took some of the sting out of the loss, Dougher said, “Not really, we’ve had one of those (a scorer on his level) that have been here. This NCAA tournament, you know, everybody [in the program] needed it, so…”
An emotional Dougher was too upset to continue his thought.
Finishing just 2-for-12 from the floor, including 2-for-8 from three-point range, Dougher was one of many Seawolves who struggled to score.
Senior forward Al Rappier (ten points) made five of ten field goal attempts, but overall, Stony Brook shot an America East championship game record-low 29.3 percent, making just 17 of 58 shots from the field. The Seawolves were even worse from behind the arc, where they connected on just four of 19 shots (21.1 percent).
Sophomore point guard Dave Coley (ten points) was the biggest culprit, making just 4 of his 16 field goal attempts and only one of five from three-point range, even though helped lead one final Stony Brook push late in the game.
“If you don’t score, you can’t win,” said Pikiell. “Our defense was fine… but I’ve got to give Vermont a lot of credit. They did a great job. They were poised… they’re a good basketball team… we picked the wrong day to not shoot the ball well at all.”
Pikiell later added, “Basketball isn’t that complicated, it really isn’t,” Pikiell said later. “If you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to score enough points.”
“Vermont’s a great team,” Dougher said. “They didn’t hurt themselves today, they never do.”
Frustrated, Dougher had no specific answer for why some of Stony Brook’s open looks wouldn’t go down.
“Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. That’s just basketball.”
He did, however, credit his opponent’s ability to stop him and his teammates, saying “Vermont’s a tough defensive team. They didn’t give us many open looks. A great effort by them defensively… once you drive, they all converge in the paint… so you’re kind of hesitant to even drive in there… they’re a great defensive team, and we didn’t handle that very well today.
All of McGlynn’s five first-half points came during a 9-0 Vermont run that pushed the Catamounts’ lead to 22-9 on a nifty reverse layup through traffic by guard Sandro Carissimo (eight points, five rebounds) with 6:36 left in the half.
Rapier scored on layups on each of the next two Stony Brook possessions to spark a 10-4 half-closing run by the Seawolves, but a Carissimo three-pointer and a layup by sophomore forward Luke Apfeld (two points) to start the second half, pushed Vermont’s lead up to 31-19.
Back-to-back three-pointers by junior guard James Rouse (five points) and Dougher brought the crowd back to life and pulled the Seawolves to within 31-25 with 16:33 remaining, but McGlynn answered with a pair of three-pointers to quickly double that margin.
Rouse scored on a layup to make it 40-29, but McGlynn made another trey, and then so did sophomore forward Brian Voelkel (five points, game-high of 15 rebounds and seven assists) on the next possession, to push the Catamounts’ lead to a game-high 46-29 with 9:56 left.
Voelkel’s basket was Vermont’s last field goal of the game, but the Catamounts’ lead was big enough to hold off a final surge by the Seawolves.
Vermont made 18 of its first 33 shots (54.5 percent) from the floor, and 7 of its first 12 (58.3 percent) three-pointers, but missed its final ten field goal attempts, including its last three treys.
That allowed Stony Brook to get back in the game on a 14-1 run, during which Coley scored eight points. Dougher capped the spurt with a pair of free throws to trim the Catamounts’ lead to just 47-43 with one minute remaining, but the Seawolves would fail to score thereafter.
Following a Stony Brook stop, Coley missed a forced jumper and then, trailing 48-43, Coley missed a contested three-pointer. Voelkel pulled down the rebound and made two free throws to extend Vermont’s lead to 50-43 with 25 seconds to go.
The board gave Voelkel more than twice as many rebounds as any other player in the game, and he ended up with one more assist than the entire Seawolves team combined.
Although he only scored a total of twelve points in the Catamounts’ three tournament games, Voelkel was recognized for his solid team play as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after finishing the trio of contests with 36 rebounds and 21 assists.
Reflecting on the loss, Pikiell, a former point guard for Connecticut who has helped put Stony Brook basketball on the map, said, “You’re down 17 against a good basketball team, and that we were able to get to back and make it a basketball game is a credit to these guys.”
Those guys, were Pikiell’s two seniors, Dougher and forward Dallis Joyner (four points, five rebounds), who was often double-teamed while making the only two field goal attempts he took.
Adding of Dougher and Joyner, Pikiell said, “I wouldn’t trade these guys for ten trips to the NCAA tournament, and I mean that sincerely.”
Prior to Pikiell’s arrival, the Seawolves, who are in their thirteenth year in Division I and in their eleventh year in the America East, had yet to enjoy any success at their current level of play.
They were only 4-24 in Pikiell’s rookie year and Stony Brook struggled to two more losing seasons, winning a total of only 16 games, in each of the next two years under Pikiell.
But, the Seawolves improved to 16-14 the following season, in the rookie years for both Dougher and Joyner, and they’ve won their first two regular season Division I league titles within the past three years.
Though admittedly very disappointed for his team and especially for his seniors, Pikiell, who picked up his second league coach of the year award this season, still focused on what’s next, as Stony Brook awaits who it will play in the NIT.
“We’re still playing, and we’re excited about that,” he said. “We’ve got a postseason bid, and a lot of teams are going home, and we’re going to try and play great in the NIT.”
While the reality set in for Dougher that he and his fellow seniors will never get to play in the NCAA tournament, Dougher was prideful in speaking of a group that he led to 75 wins for a program that had just 84 prior wins in eight Division I seasons.
“Our four years are kind of the beginning of the program,” Dougher said. “There’s a long way to go. It might be it for us, but the program’s on the rise right now. We’ve got a great class coming in and great returners next year, and hopefully they can keep building the program to where it needs to be. And, I have complete confidence in our coaching staff and all of our returning players that they’ll get back to this game, and hopefully win it next year.”
Vermont’s win paid Stony Brook back for the Seawolves’ semifinal win as a five seed last year over the then-top-seeded Catamounts, and it continues Vermont’s league success after three straight America East final wins from 2003-2005, and another in 2010.
The Catamounts will be seeking their second NCAA tournament win, having been known best for their 2005 first-round upset as a 13 seed over fourth-seeded Syracuse.