When you are a parent, things are never quite normal. Take this morning for instance. My older son Matthew had a nightmare and came into our room at 3:00 am. He came into bed with us and curled up to my wife in between us. Since now I was somewhat awake, I needed to go downstairs to the bathroom.
Now fully awake, I checked the late scores of last night's NCAA Tournament. Cal proved that the PAC 10 isn't really so bad as they clocked Louisville and made the conference 2-0 in the tournament while the Big East has seen half of its teams get eliminated in the first two days. Maryland pulled away from Houston in a typical high scoring game featuring a Tom Penders team that often ends up on the losing end, as it did last night.
So after checking what time the St Mary's - Villanova game was today (1:20 PM eastern) and watching TV for a little bit, I headed up to bed a little while ago. There to find my son sprawled out partially on my side of the bed, with my dog curled up on the rest of my side on the bed. A very cute picture no doubt, but no room for yours truly. So here I am writing this article at 4:30 in the morning on Saturday.
It was only a few days ago, I went to see a doubleheader with Tieff. We decided to watch the first half of the 7:00 PM Hofstra-IUPU game, then leave at halftime for the Illinois-Stony Brook game that was at 9:00 PM. After being two of the 952 people that were at the Hofstra game and watching a terrible first half performance by the Pride, it made things easier to leave at halftime.
Stony Brook is probably out in the middle of Suffolk County and that still is a pretty far trip from Hempstead in Nassau County - nearly an hour by car. I don't think people fully realize how large Suffolk County is. It takes about two hours to drive from my house in North Bellmore to go to Montauk Point on the eastern end of Suffolk County and Long Island. It also took us a while to find a parking spot on campus that was anywhere near the arena and we took the seemingly ten minute walk from the parking lot to the arena.
The first thing we noticed when we walked up the steps of the Stony Brook Arena was the huge sign "SOLD OUT". We already though had tickets waiting for us at will call. Section 109, Row N, aisle seats as it turned out. When we walked in, we saw a giant sea of Seawolves Red. And despite it being Saint Patrick's Day, we were totally out of place in our green, in my case my Wayne Chrebet's Jets jersey.
The game had just started and immediately the first thing I noticed was both ends of the court completely packed to the brim with Stony Brook Students and on the right side end of the court, the large Seawolves pep band. It's not really an arena, but a large gym that seats 4400. But that's ok, because that made the game more intimate, much to the dismay of Illinois Coach Bruce Weber.
What also stands out to me and I hadn't noticed the other time I was at the arena for an Iona-Stony Brook women's game, is the lighting is brighter on the court and it's dimmer where the fans sit. And I think that's fantastic, because it makes the game the focus of your attention. At Hofstra and at some other school arenas I have been at, the generic lighting is spread out the same throughout the arena, and it takes away your focus from the game.
And when you did look out at the crowd, outside of a smattering of Illinois fans here and there that made the trip out from Champagne, it was all Stony Brook fans clad in red. Many of them wearing T Shirts that said on the front "What's a Seawolf?" and on the back it read "I AM A SEAWOLF". Nice.
And talk about a difference between two game crowds. At the Hofstra game, where Jerry Beach had an entire section of seats to himself, you could hear Jaguars coach Ron Hunter in all his splendor chirping at the refs. Here at the Stony Brook game, it was loud, raucous and most importantly fun. As soon as we sat in our seats, I turned to Tieff and said "Now this is what a postseason game should be like!" I couldn't keep the smile off my face the entire night.
You had not just a lot of students here, but a lot of Stony Brook alumni and the community coming out to root on their Seawolves and they let it be known that they were happy to be at Stony Brook's first ever postseason Division I tournament game, let alone hosting it. We had a Stony Brook alum next to us talking all night about the basketball team and the football team (now that they had the only Division IA football team left on the Island). You could feel his sense of pride (no pun intended there Mr. Beach) for his school.
And a stoked Seawolves team fed off the energy of the crowd and jumped out on the Fighting Illini. When Weber called timeout for his team immediately after Chris Martin's layup gave Stony Brook a 7-0 lead, the crowd's eruption nearly took the roof off the place. And it was a good timeout by Weber. Despite Wolfie urging the crowd on, the Illini righted themselves and scored the next eight points to take the lead.
But the first half proved to be a battle of mini spurts, and the Seawolves would score the next five points to go back up 13-8. Stony Brook maintained a five point lead 18-13 on a Bryan Dougher three. But again, Illinois would come back with a 9-o run, which included one of Demetri McCamey's three three pointers on the night, to take a 22-18 lead.
But once again, the Seawolves would comeback and a Muhammed El Amin layup put the Seawolves up 34-30 with 2:30 left in the first half. However, again the Illini came back and ended the half on a 8-2 spurt capped by a McCamey jumper to put Illinois up two at halftime 38-36. Stony Brook played as a good half as it possibly could, keeping within two of one of the final bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament.
And Illinois came out in the second half showing Stony Brook why it felt it should have made the Tournament. McCamey and D.J. Richardson buried threes as part of a 10-2 run that put the Illini up ten, 48-38 with seventeen minutes left in the game. The Seawolves would then cut it back to five. But then a 7-0 spurt by the Illini gave them their biggest lead of the game, twelve at 55-43 with 12:54 left. It looked like the Big Ten's fifth best team during the regular season was too much for the America East's best regular season team.
But the Seawolves reminded Bruce Weber and the Illini why they were the regular season America East champion. Over the next nearly six minutes, Stony Brook whittled the lead in half to 59-53 with exactly seven minutes left on a Martin layup and he was fouled. Before Martin could hit the free throw for the three point play, Weber called timeout and looked up at the scoreboard. It was as if he was saying to himself, "How much time is left before we can escape out of here? I didn't expect this!"
And the crowd as it had been just about all night was loud, urging their team to make the comeback complete. Martin hit the free throw to cut it to five, 59-54. The Seawolves had two chances to cut the lead even further, but as he had been off all night, El-Amin, the America East Kevin Roberson Player of the Year, again missed a three pointer. The Illiini would extend the lead back to nine as Mike Tisdale hit one of two free throws and Richardson nailed another three pointer.
The Seawolves would keep it within six, 65-59 with about two minutes left and had several chances to cut the lead even further. But again El Amin was off with a shot and a Tisdale three with 1:29 left put Illinois up by nine. Stony Brook never got any closer the rest of the way, losing 76-66 in their first Division I postseason game.
As the clock expired on the game, all the fans in the arena stood up and gave a standing ovation to a game Seawolves team that played its heart out. Perhaps had El Amin had a better shooting night (he was 6 of 20 from the field), the outcome might have been different.
Still, the electric crowd reminded me that the NIT still has a little pull its now old, though perhaps irrelevant age. Mike Francesca stated on his radio show Friday that the NCAA moving to 96 teams is "a done deal" because that's the only way the NCAA will get a new television deal similar to the one they currently have with CBS. As a result, the NIT might be a done deal too.
But for one night in Stony Brook, it meant the world to a fledgling Division I program, its team and 4400 very supportive fans. The game showed the promise of what a good basketball team with the proper support can bring. There is nothing better than a good college basketball game in front of a sold out, electric crowd. And the Seawolves got two new fans for next season in Tieff and me, as we told each other we'll go to more games. I was really glad I stayed up past midnight Monday morning to get tickets. This was truly worth it.
Thanks Stony Brook for showing how it's done.