After earning its first trip to the NCAA as a Division I team, it was only fitting for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team to have a proper send-off.
Fans young and old came out donning the Seawolves’ red and white, waving pom-poms and throwing up homemade banners and posters to show support for their favorite college basketball team.
“It’s great for the school and great for the community and great for exposure,” senior Stony Brook standout Jameel Warney said. “You play to win. You play for admiration from the fans. We love the community and it’s great to be here. We’re coming out to win. We’re going to work out hardest and give it our all.”
Warney, just days prior, tallied a career-high 43 points in the Seawolves’ 80-74 victory over The University of Vermont in the America East Championship at the sold-out Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
Warney was a remarkable 18-for-22 from the field to go with a 7-for-10 showing from the free-throw line. The Seawolves senior added 10 rebounds and four blocks in his final home game at Stony Brook. Warney’s third-consecutive double-double gave him 59 for his Seawolves career. He tallied 25 of his 43 points in the second half. The 43-point, career-best performance eclipses his 36-point outing against the University of Hartford on Feb. 8. It is also the highest total in the Division I era by any Seawolves player.
Senior Carson “Trey” Puriefoy added 23 points to help secure the win. Puriefoy played all 40 minutes and showed how he got his nickname, draining all five of Stony Brook’s 3-pointers. He notched 16 of his 23 points in the second half, and was 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Puriefoy, who moved within 28 points for third on the Division I scoring list with 1,562 points as of Saturday, took to the fans to tell them how lucky the team is to have their support.
“We want to thank everyone for coming out,” he said. “We made history. You guys have been there for us all season long, we love everybody and we’re going to go to the dance and make history.”
Head coach Steve Pikiell, who is in his 11th season with the Seawolves, said he’s honored to finally get his team to the dance, and tried to break the ice as he joked about the historic No. 4-seeded University of Kentucky that his No. 13 team will be taking on Thursday at 9:40 p.m.
“We’re going to represent this great university and this great area the right way on Thursday night when we play a small team out there in Kentucky,” he said, laughing. “I think they have a basketball program out there.”
But on a more serious note, the coach said he appreciated all the support he’s received throughout the years, and how hard his team has worked to get to the position it’s in now.
“So many good people have helped us get to this place,” he said. “This team did something that no team in Stony Brook history did. It’s hard to make history, and they got through every obstacle this year and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
According to Pikiell, there are 358 teams that start off the season wanting to be in the NCAA tournament, and just 64 get a chance to punch a ticket to the first round.
“We did it,” Pikiell said. “We broke through.”
The team filed out to a red carpet, high-fiving the fans that cheered as they swarmed around the 14-man roster as it boarded the bus to begin the long trip to Iowa.
“They want to feel your energy in Des Moines, Iowa, so bring it on Thursday,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “This team is a special team and you’re going to see some special things on Thursday night.”
The berth is the first for Stony Brook (26-6) in its Division I history. The Seawolves, known then as the Patriots, last made the NCAA tournament in 1991 as a member of Division III. Stony Brook and Kentucky faced each other in 2007, and the Wildcats held off the Seawolves, 62-52.
The game Thursday will be televised on CBS, and the winner will face Indiana University or The University of Tennessee Chattanooga in the second round.