scored 18 points to lead Stony Brook to a crucial win over Vermont Friday. (Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports)
In three of the last four seasons, Stony Brook has been the regular season champion of the America East Conference. Each of those seasons ended with a trip to the NIT. If any team understands that leading the conference at the end of January means nothing, it's Steve Pikiell's Seawolves. That doesn't mean they aren't happy to be in their current position, however.
Stony Brook grabbed sole possession of first place in the America East with a 67-64 win over Vermont on Long Island Friday night. After leading by 16 points at halftime, the Seawolves had to hold on as the Catamounts stormed back into the game with a 13-0 run, cutting their deficit to four points with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game. That's when Jameel Warney and Anthony Jackson took over for the Seawolves.
When Stony Brook got the ball back up 50-46, it was the first time its lead was trimmed to less than five points since it was up 11-8 early in the first half. They came out and got Warney an easy layup for two of his team-high 18 points on the night. Jackson knocked down threes on the next two possessions to push the lead to nine points. While Vermont would eventually make it a one-score game, it couldn't quite get over the hump. The win gives Stony Brook the inside track on the conference's sole bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, being in first place in the conference in March doesn't necessarily mean that much, let alone being in first on Jan. 24. The Seawolves were the top seed in the conference tournament in 2010, 2012 and 2013, only to lose twice in the semifinals and once in the championship. They now hold a one-game lead over Vermont in the conference, but will visit Burlington on Feb. 27 in a game that could very well determine who earns the No. 1 seed -- and home-court advantage -- in the America East tourney.
The Seawolves will undoubtedly enjoy owning pole position in the conference heading into the final five weeks of the regular season, but they've been in this position before. No matter what happens the rest of the season, including in that return date against the Catamounts in Vermont, they won't get any validation until they hear their names announced on Selection Sunday.