- Dalai Lama
AMHERST, Mass. - There is no truth to the rumor that I agreed to cover the UMass-Stony Brook NIT for Big Apple Buckets just to see how tall Chaz Williams actually is.
I mean, I'm 5-foot-8, and completely convinced I have a couple inches on Chaz. Does it matter? Not really, but I just feel like a guy like Williams should play that up, maybe undersell himself. If one of the most exciting players in the country was listed at say, 5-4, wouldn't more people take notice?
Anyway, the final verdict was inconclusive. Chaz was sitting near me in the pregame, but it was still hard to tell. Sadly for Williams, I wouldn't be near him again afterward, and if that had anything to do with the karma police stepping in for me being a media-type for an evening, I wholeheartedly apologize.
They had already gotten to me earlier in the evening, when my name failed to show up on the media list despite having cleared it with the proper authorities 48 hours prior. Probably because it was the NIT (attendance at the Mullins Center was 2.173), I was able to talk my way into parking near the arena and then passed myself off as a legitimate reporter enough to get courtside.
Because they didn't have an official seat for me, I was away from the rest of the media, and - more importantly - an outlet to charge my computer. So I had to stretch underneath the table to get it to reach to the nearest plug,
On the stretch, though, I felt a big rip somewhere on my back, immediately realizing that this wasn't going to end well. Luckily, I checked out fine physically, but sure enough, I leaned back, looked down, and realized that I had ripped my pants right down the center. I quickly plugged the computer in, hoping no one was looking, then decided I probably didn't have to get up again until after the game, and I could discreetly make my way to the press room, conduct interviews, and file my story, all while staying covered up enough that no one would notice the giant hole in my pants.
Then, the PA announcer came on and gave the requisite announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise as we honor America with the playing of our national anthem."
In psychology, the "spotlight effect" is the belief - especially in a crowd - that more people are looking at you than truly are, and that surely applied here. The pants were retired officially (or at least until a decision on stitching is made) when I got home, but if anyone noticed, it wasn't mentioned and the hole probably wasn't as gaping as I felt it was.
There isn't much of a "spotlight" on the NIT these days, every once in a while we get a Robert Morris situation
, but the Stony Brook-UMass game went largely unnoticed the day before the NCAA Tournament (well, there were Play-in games going on simultaneously) was to be commence.
(Interestingly, I was sitting next to Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore, who was in the difficult position of trying to adhere to the "no cheering on press row" edict even though his team was playing, but he handled it fairly well. He also recognized that referee Gary Prager had worked the Robert Morris upset the night before, and asked what the finish was like. He got an old-school response. "That was pretty rough getting out of there. I had to pull a Chris Chambliss and put my head down
." Hopefully, someone else gets that reference.)
With a record of 24-7, the Seawolves came in deemed at best, a tragic figure, and at worst, a failure. A magnificent season was tarnished permanently when Stony Brook - despite being the top seed in America East - was forced to play a semifinal on the road at Albany (the tourney site was set well in advance) and was upset, meaning going to the Big Dance for the first time would have to wait at least one more season. It was the second straight campaign where Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook were upset in the conference tournament. Last March, at home, the Seawolves fell in the final to Vermont after capturing the regular season title.
And, of course, the NCAA Tournament has become the holy grail, the "end all be all" of existence in college basketball. The fact that Stony Brook was taken from the depths of Division I to 46-17 in the last two seasons is irrelevant.
But should that be the only test in Our Game? Am I allowed to ask that question?
Whether anyone outside Stony Brook noticed or not, the Seawolves - a No. 7 seed in the NIT - took it straight to UMass, a solid Atlantic-10 team playing on their own floor. Well, maybe not "straight to". The Seawolves, with Wolfie in tow, of course (you are allowed to bring your band, cheerleaders, and mascot on the road in the NIT), took a bit to get adjusted to the size of the Minutemen and the quickness of Williams.
UMass led 25-21 with seven minutes left in the first half, and appeared to be imposing its will on their less-heralded visitors, even though Williams had recently gone to the bench with two fouls (the Minutemen have also played the second half of the season without second-leading scorer Jesse Morgan, who unfortunately for him, had his finest moment back in December with me watching
Stony Brook would not allow another point for the rest of the first half, while scoring 17 of their own to lead 38-25 at the break. With Williams back (he played at the end of the first half as well), UMass made a run to start the second half, and got as close as six, but Stony Brook, led by guards Anthony Jackson and Dave Coley responded. When America East Player of the Year had a highlight-reel assist to freshman Jameel Warney, the lead was back to double digits.
At some point, Williams also left the game for good with a shoulder injury which didn't hurt Stony Brook's chances at the upset, either. UMass huffed and puffed, but never seriously made the Seawolves sweat in the final moments as they held the Minutemen to a season-low 58 points in a 71-58 win, with just 33 of those points coming in the final 27 minutes of the game.
It was the first post-season Division I victory in school history for Stony Brook, their nation-leading 13th true road win of the campaign, and their program-record 25th victory of 2012-13, five years removed from a three-season stretch in which they never even got to double digits in the win column.
Surely, that's a season to be celebrated, no?
In the end, 48 hours after this game, and 1,500 miles away, Stony Brook battled Iowa hard for most of the game before a sell-out crowd before being eliminated and their season finally complete.
But at least they had one moment, one chance to get rid of the horrible taste of the Albany loss. Not every team can say that. Not many teams can say that.
I've covered this theme before this season, it shouldn't be about seeking attention in Our Game. You want to call Stony Brook a failure for what they've done they've done the last two seasons? That's fine.
At Stony Brook, though, they know better. And that's all that really matters.