A look back at the 2011-12 season
April 25, 2012
The 2011-12 Stony Brook men's basketball season had the look of a special one right from the get-go. What began with an exhilarating trip overseas ended with the program's second-ever postseason appearance, both in the last three years alone. Records were broken, milestones reached and audiences were captivated by head coach Steve Pikiell and his Seawolves, who continue to show that they are and will continue to be a force in the America East Conference for some time. The 2011-12 season, known as The Ride, was truly a roller coaster for all participants.
Before fall practice ever began, Stony Brook racked up a lifetime of memories when the team went on a European exhibition tour in August. The team visited three of the most historic cities of the world in Dublin, London and Paris. Most of the student-athletes had never left the country, and they were in for an experience as they had the opportunity to visit historic sites and museums, immerse themselves in different cultures, try new foods and play basketball against semi-professional teams. Most importantly, the trip proved to be a bonding experience for the team, who spent nearly two weeks together.
Stony Brook went 4-1 in their five exhibition games abroad. The team's leading rebounder was junior Tommy Brenton, who used the trip as an opportunity to get back into game shape. He had missed the entire 2010-11 season due to a knee injury. Not having played in an organized game in over 12 months, Brenton responded by pulling down an average of 7.6 rebounds over the five games and dishing out 4.8 assists.
With incredible depth on the team, the Seawolves engaged in a very competitive fall practice. On the 14-man roster, there were four seniors and five juniors who have a ton of experience and know what it takes to win. Of the 14, nine had previously cracked the Stony Brook starting lineup, showing how incredibly talented the reserves are and how they could push the starters to be better.
By the time the regular season came along, expectations were high for Stony Brook. The team had been picked to finish second in America East, and senior Bryan Dougher was named to the preseason All-America East team.
The ride tipped off at one of the nation's most sacred arena as the Seawolves played at Indiana University's Assembly Hall. Although the game ended up in a loss, the Seawolves played to a near capacity crowd of 16,506, one of the largest crowds to ever witness a sporting event that included a Stony Brook program.
Two days later, the Seawolves opened the home portion of their schedule against Mount Ida, and SBU came away victorious, 93-39. If there was any doubt about Brenton and his health, the doubts went away with an 11-point, 13-rebound, 8-assist performance, just two assists away from a triple-double. Brenton went on to finish the year with five double-doubles and a few more near misses.
In mid-December, the Seawolves took New York City by storm, playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time as a Div. I program. Invited to participate in the Holiday Festival, The Seawolves drew BIG EAST member Rutgers, the team's fourth "Power Six" conference opponent of the season. Over 2,000 Stony Brook fans and alumni came to the Garden to support the Seawolves, who ultimately fell short to the Scarlet Knights.
The loss to Rutgers was one of four to " Power Six" teams in the regular season, but the Seawolves quickly shook off their 3-6 start and began an incredible run that took them right into postseason.
Playing in the friendly confines of Pritchard Gymnasium, the Seawolves sent a sold-out crowd home happy with a 68-59 win over Cornell on Dec. 28, and two days, later they defeated Rider by 17 points to head into conference play with some momentum.
Stony Brook's first opponent in America East play was no stiff; in fact, it was defending regular season champion Vermont, who is always a tough opponent. However, the Seawolves grinded out a 65-59 win over the Catamounts on the strength of 17 points from senior Al Rapier, 15 points from sophomore Dave Coley and 14 points from senior Bryan Dougher.
Stony Brook dispatched Binghamton next, its first-ever win at the Events Center, before coming home to hand Albany its first conference loss of the year, an 81-68 win. The Seawolves then crushed UMBC, 89-49, the most points SBU has ever scored against a Div. I team. The win made SBU 4-0 in America East for the first time ever.
Stony Brook next had a rematch with Boston University, the team that defeated the Seawolves in the 2011 America East Championship final. Although Coley scored a career-high 21 points, Stony Brook never fully recovered from falling behind 14-2 and lost to the Terriers 61-55, snapping a six-game winning streak.
The Seawolves quickly shook off the defeat and topped New Hampshire two days later before knocking off Maine in Orono. That brought the Seawolves to 6-1 in America East and on the verge of a three-game homestand.
The first game of the homestand was a 60-37 win over Hartford,, which extended SBU's home winning streak to 10 games, and continued an incredible defensive dominance over the Hawks at home. This was the second straight season SBU held Hartford under 40 points at Pritchard Gymnasium. In 2011, the Seawolves won 69-35. The two games are at the top of SBU's fewest points allowed to a Div. I opponent charts.
Next was another shot at the Terriers, this time at home in front of a sold-out raucous crowd and on national television (ESPNU). To call the game back-and-forth would be an understatement. BU opened the game by hitting three-pointer after three-pointer and was up by nine points before anyone could blink. Stony Brook weathered the storm and fought back to go up by four at halftime. Dougher scored eight of the game's first 11 points in the second half to put the Seawolves up by 13. But the Terriers again fought back and were up by four points with six minutes to play. SBU went up by one with 2:59 left in the game, BU turned the ball over, and Dougher hit a dagger three-pointer to send the crowd into a frenzy. The Seawolves went on to win 66-57 to re-claim sole possession of first place in the conference.
The BU win was SBU's fourth straight, and the Seawolves would double that number after wins over Binghamton, Albany, New Hampshire and UMBC. The win over the Retrievers put SBU at 12-1 in America East and gave the Seawolves wins in 14 of their last 15 games, a Div. I program best. It was also the team's 13th straight home win, also matching the program's Div. I record.
The hot streak put Stony Brook in a position to clinch the America East regular season championship at Vermont on Feb. 12. However, things did go according to plan, as the Catamounts shot 48% for the game and connected on nine three-pointers to come away with a 68-49 victory. The celebration plans were put on hold.
Stony Brook was forced to step away from America East competition and participate in the 10th annual BracketBusters event, which pits mid-major teams from conferences across country against each other. Stony Brook drew former America East foe Northeastern and traveled up to Boston to play the Huskies. Stony Brook was down by as much as nine points with under six minutes left in the game, however a furious 17-2 run, spurred on by Brenton on offense and defense, helped the Seawolves exit historic Matthews Arena with a 76-69 victory. In total, the Seawolves outscored NU 23-7 in the final 5:35 of the game.
The comeback victory allowed Stony Brook to shake off the Vermont loss and get back to its winning ways. The Seawolves routed Hartford, 74-50, by shooting 62% from the field, including a blinding 79% in the second half. They made 15 of their 19 shots.
That set the stage for a second chance at clinching the outright America East regular season championship. Playing Maine at home on Senior Day and on national television (CBS Sports Network), the Seawolves survived a pesky Black Bears team to walk away with a 55-48 win and earn the program's second regular season title in three seasons.
Stony Brook went into the 2012 America East Championship as the league's No. 1 seed, and they earned numerous honors for their incredible run to the conference title. Brenton and Dougher were named first-team All-America East. Senior Dallis Joyner was named to the third team. Brenton was the Defensive Player of the Year and on the All-Defensive team. Pikiell was named Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons. Dougher was also named the America East Fans' Choice Player of the Year.
In the tournament quarterfinals, Stony Brook drew No. 9 seed Binghamton and was given all it could handle in a 78-69 victory that was closer than the score indicated. Then in the semifinals, the Seawolves got into a rock fight with rival Albany. The game featured six ties and nine lead changes, and the largest lead by either team was only seven points. The game came down to the final possession, where Joyner tipped in a Coley missed jumper with four-tenths of a second remaining to break a 55-55 tie and send the Seawolves into the finals with a thrilling 57-55 win.
The Joyner tip was so prominent that it was the No. 1 play of the week on ESPN's SportsCenter.
The victory was the 22nd of the season for Stony Brook, matching the 2009-10 team for most in the program's Div. I history. It also gave the Seawolves the opportunity to host the America East Championship final for the first time ever.
Stony Brook, both the team and the university as a whole, had a week to prepare for the pomp and circumstance of hosting the championship game. The department opened Stony Brook Arena to hold a larger crowd, and sold out the game three days before the event. The team conducted media interviews. The campus went abuzz over the event, which was to be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Gameday came, and the energetic crowd rooted hard for Stony Brook, but it was not meant to be, as Vermont held the normally steady Seawolves offense to just 29% shooting, and the Catamounts captured the conference crown and NCAA Tournament bid with a 51-43 victory.
Despite the loss, Stony Brook's season would not end there. By virtue of winning the regular season championship, SBU had claimed an automatic bid into the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) for the second time in three seasons. The 32-team field featured 11 conference regular season champions and 25 teams with 20 wins or more. The Seawolves were selected as a No. 8 seed and drew No. 1 Seton Hall.
Stony Brook fell behind the Pirates by 10 points in the early going, but junior Marcus Rouse scored 10 first-half points off the bench to get the Seawolves to within two points by halftime. In the second half, SBU took a three-point lead, but Seton Hall quickly re-claimed the lead and never relinquished it. The Seawolves were only down two with possession of the ball in the final seconds, but Dougher's potential game-winning three-pointer was off the mark, and Brenton's put-back try missed as well.
Despite the two disappointing losses at the end of the season, it's hard not to look at Stony Brook's year as an incredible success. The program set milestone after milestone, appeared on television more times than any other Stony Brook Athletics team ever and won a championship by winning more games than any other America East institution over the course of a 16-game round-robin schedule. Below is a full list of accomplishments Stony Brook had during 2011-12: