After NCAA elimination, Stony Brook Seawolves reflect on making history

After NCAA elimination, Stony Brook Seawolves reflect on making history

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Dream season ends with coaching change

Steve Pikiell had high hopes for this season, and full confidence that this would be a special year and the Stony Brook men’s basketball head coach was right — the Seawolves made it all the way to the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I team. And even though they suffered a first-round elimination, members of the team and its fans said they would remember the experience as one of great success.

“I knew it would happen — you’ve got to have a special group,” said Pikiell.

He recognized the talent in his seniors, and the group that came together over four years to break through to the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament.

Just a few years ago, it was difficult to fill Pritchard Gymnasium with 1,000 people. This season, the now-named Island Federal Credit Union Arena sold out. Some of those dedicated fans stuck by the team, in good times and bad.

Those were the fans who sat on the steps in front of the arena after their loss, anxiously waiting for their history-making America East conference champions to arrive. Despite the plane landing late, devotees waited for one last warm welcome, and honored the Seawolves who brought them so much joy this season with chants of “S-B-U.”

“We’ve looked forward to this for many, many years, so it’s a great success,” said Sam DiCanio II, of Stony Brook, who has been watching the team since his 9-year-old son was in the womb. “It was a tough draw, Kentucky is a tough team, but we showed that we’re on the right path.”

No. 13 Stony Brook may have fallen, 85-57, to No. 4-seeded University of Kentucky last Thursday night in a game shown on CBS TV, but fans didn’t drop them.

“[Playing against] Kentucky was good for us for the experience and for all the players and recruits to see us with all of our pros,” DiCanio’s young son said. “The excitement in that final home game was amazing.”

Followers felt the stadium rocking.

“No one was sitting,” said Maureen Zajac, a graduate of Stony Brook who lives in Shoreham with her 11–year-old son Anthony.

The two have been season ticket holders for two years now, and Zajac said she was overcome with emotion because of how far the team has come.

“Every day you read the newspaper and you cry. It’s fantastic. We’re so proud of them,” she said, holding up a banner. “We wrote we’re so proud because we’ve got to celebrate. They did an amazing job this year. The boys are amazing. They’re excellent role models.”

The class act trio of seniors waved hello to fans as they exited the bus, and waved goodbye to the end of a historic run — and the end of their Seawolves careers.

Warney, a three-time America East Player of the Year who scored a career-high 43 points in his last home game of his college career and 23 points and 15 rebounds in the Round of 64 contest, said he appreciates those fans who stuck around not just on that March 18 evening, but over the last four years.

“It was a long, hard season,” Warney said. “The heartbreaks, the adversity and the success. The community has been behind us for the last four years and they’ve been through a lot of heartbreaks, too, and everyone has just come back stronger and more supportive and it keeps us balanced. They make Stony Brook a hard place to play at.”

But the team, and especially Warney, who accounted for his 21st double-double of the season and 60th of his career, is what put Stony Brook on the map.

“Carson [Puriefoy] is fast, he has a good hang and an amazing shot, and Warney blocks everyone’s shots,” Anthony Zajac said.

Puriefoy added 10 points, and Rayshaun McGrew tied a career-high three steals. Ahmad Walker, a junior, finished with eight rebounds and three assists.

The team became an object that students, family members and community members could rally around.

“This experience brought back a lot of memories,” said Ronald Gerry. Like the times he’d go to University of Pennsylvania to be with his daughter, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and watch games: “We meet a lot of our friends, my wife Pam and I, and we all cheer together and talk. It’s a weekly outing.”

For Warney, who was named Tuesday Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I Player of the Year, the experience was also great to be a part of.

“It was a lot of exposure,” he said of being on that court in Des Moines, Iowa. “I came in an 18-year-old kid not knowing anything and being homesick every day, to trying to finally achieve what we’ve been working for. I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Pikiell said the team would be back next year with players in the program who continue to work hard.

“We’re excited about the future, too,” he said.

But Pikiell won’t be there to witness the hard work pay off firsthand. In a shock announcment just days after the Seawolves’ NCAA tournament appearance, the Stony Brook resident signed a five-year deal with a starting annual salary of $1.4 million to head the program at Rutgers University.

He will end his time with Stony Brook alongside his senior athletes.

Warney finished his illustrious career with 2,132 points, 1,275 rebounds and 276 blocks. Puriefoy ended his with 1,572 points, ranking him fourth all-time in Division I program history. And McGrew will go down in Stony Brook history as the first Seawolf to score a basket in the Division I tournament. Stony Brook’s senior class finished with a 97-38 record, the winningest class in school history.

“We started this journey in Germany on a European trip and we ended it in Iowa,” Pikiell said. “It was an exciting year, it was a hard year and there’s a lot of terrific moments — 18 wins in a row, winning the league, playing a home game here for the championship, cutting the nets down — so a lot of good memories.”

Warney said some of those good memories wouldn’t have happened without the staff and his teammates, but especially his coach.

“He’s one of the best coaches in the conference,” Warney said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. Pikiell always said it’s hard to make history, and we finally did it. We were motivated. We played together and we found a formula to win.”

“[Playing against] Kentucky was good for us for the experience and for all the players and recruits to see us with all of our pros,” said Stony Brook resident Sam Dicanio III. “The excitement in that final home game was amazing.”

Followers felt the stadium rocking.

“No one was sitting,” said Maureen Zajac, a graduate of Stony Brook who lives in Shoreham with her 11–year-old-son Anthony.

The two have been season ticket holders for two years now, and Zajac said she was overcome with emotion because of how far the team has come.

“Every day you read the newspaper and you cry. It’s fantastic. We’re so proud of them,” she said, holding up a banner. “We wrote we’re so proud because we’ve got to celebrate. They did an amazing job this year. The boys are amazing. They’re excellent role models.”

The class act trio of seniors waved hello to fans as they exited the bus, and waved goodbye to the end of a historic run, and the end of their Seawolves careers.

Warney, an America East Player of the Year who scored a career-high 43 points in his last home game of his college career and 23 points and 15 rebounds in the Round of 64 contest, said he appreciates those fans who stuck around not just on that March 18 evening, but over the last four years.

“It was a long, hard season,” Warney said. “The heartbreaks, the adversity and the success. The community has been behind us for the last four years and they’ve been through a lot of heartbreaks, too, and everyone has just come back stronger and more supportive and it keeps us balanced. They make Stony Brook a hard place to play at.”

But the team, and especially Warney, who accounted for his 21st double-double of the season and 60th of his career, is what put Stony Brook on the map.

“Carson is fast, he has a good hang and an amazing shot, and Warney blocks everyone’s shots,” Anthony Zajac said.

Carson Puriefoy added 10 points, and Rayshaun McGrew tied a career-high three steals. Ahmad Walker, a junior, finished with eight rebounds and three assists.

The team became an object that students, family members and community members could rally around.

“This experience brought back a lot of memories,” said Ronald Gerry. Like the times he’d go to University of Pennsylvania to be with his daughter, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and watch games. “We meet a lot of our friends, my wife Pam and I, and we all cheer together and talk. It’s a weekly outing.”

For Warney, the experience was also great to be a part of.

“It was a lot of exposure,” he said of being on that court in Des Moines, Iowa. “I came in an 18-year-old kid not knowing anything and bring homesick every day, to trying to finally achieve what we’ve been working for. I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Pikiell said the team would be back next year with players in the program who continue to work hard.

“We’re excited about the future, too,” he said.

But Pikiell won’t be there to witness the hard work pay off first hand. Just days after Stony Brook’s first tournament appearance, the Stony Brook resident signed a five-year deal with an annual contract salary of $1.6 million to head the program at Rutgers University.

He will end his time with Stony Brook alongside his senior athletes.

Warney finished his illustrious career with 2,132 points, 1,273 rebounds and 276 blocks. Puriefoy ended his with 1,572 points, ranking him fourth all-time in Division I program history. And McGrew will go down in Stony Brook history as the first Seawolf to score a basket in the Division I Tournament. Stony Brook’s senior class finished with a 97-38 record, the winningest class in school history.

“We started this journey in Germany on a European trip and we ended it in Iowa,” Pikiell said. “It was an exciting year, it was a hard year and there’s a lot of terrific moments — 18 wins in a row, winning the league, playing a home game here for the championship, cutting the nets down — so a lot of good memories.”

Warney said some of those good memories wouldn’t have happened without the staff and his teammates, but especially, his coach.

“He’s one of the best coaches in the conference,” Warney said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. Pikiell always said it’s hard to make history, and we finally did it. We were motivated. We played together and we found a formula to win.”