Sendoff rally held as Stony Brook makes first appearance in NCAA tournament

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Sendoff rally held as Stony Brook makes first appearance in NCAA Tournament
Kristin Thorne is live at Stony Brook University with the latest details.

STONY BROOK, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island campus was swept up in March Madness Tuesday, as Stony Brook University gets ready for its first trip to the NCAA tournament.

A sendoff rally was held for the Seawolves, the 13th seed in the Eastern Regional, who will head to Des Moines for a Thursday game against 4th-seeded Kentucky.

Several other local schools are also taking part in the Big Dance, including Iona, Seton Hall, Fairleigh Dickinson and UConn.

The Seawolves are finally getting to taste the excitement they've been so close to getting to the past few years.

It was a come-from-behind win against Vermont Saturday which clinched the team's trip to the NCAA tournament, the first time ever for the small basketball program.

"We made history. You guys have been here for us all season long. We love everybody and we're going to make history," said senior guard Carson Puriefoy.

"This team did something that no team in Stony Brook history did. It's hard to make history. They got through every obstacle this year and I couldn't be more proud of them," said head coach Steve Pikiell.

The school community gave the players and coaching staff a spirited send off Tuesday afternoon.

"We're going to represent this great university and this great area when we play this small team on Thursday night. Out there in Kentucky I think they have a basketball program out there," said Pikiell.

Stony Brook earned its berth with an 80-74 victory over Vermont in the America East Tournament, led by Jameel Warney, who scored 43 points and was named the MVP.

Top-seeded Stony Brook (26-6) had reached the tournament final four times in the last five seasons, including the last two years, and lost each time - each defeat seemingly more excruciating than the last.

Last year, a 3-pointer with just seconds left by Albany kept the Seawolves out of the NCAAs.

"I think you have to go through last year, even though no one wants to hear it, to get to this place to not make these same kind of mistakes," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said.

From heartbreak has come resolve, the Seawolves say, and they needed it against Vermont. They were down 15 in the second half, but Warney's inside game was too much for third-seeded Catamounts (21-13).

Carson Puriefoy contributed 23 points and some big free throws down the stretch for Stony Brook.

Instead of thinking, 'Oh, no, not again,' it was just the opposite from Stony Brook.

"My mindset was we're not going to let this happen," said Puriefoy, a senior like Warney who was down to his last shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Stony Brook's 4,100-seat on-campus arena still has the smell of new plastic seats two years after a major renovation, and it was jammed with red-clad fans.

The Long Island school has invested heavily in athletics in recent years and residents of the suburbs that surround this campus, 60 miles east of Manhattan, have mostly embraced the attempt to bring big-time college sports to Suffolk County.

The Seawolves and their fans, so desperate to finally break through and play the main stage of March Madness, would have to endure another nervous finish.

Warney got free down the baseline and put the Seawolves up 73-70 with 2:01 left. Then it was Warney again, this time securing a rebound with one hand and flipping it back to make it 75-72.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)