Vermont beats Stony Brook for America East titleStony Brook's Bryan Dougher (10) and Vermont's Josh Elbaum (14) battle for a rebound during the first half of the America East Men's Basketball Championship game on Saturday, March 10, 2012, in Stony Brook, NY. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
STONY BROOK, N.Y. (AP) Vermont didn't score a whole lot of points in the greatest win in the program's history so it's only right the Catamounts' latest win was a defensive effort, too.
Despite scoring just five points over the final 9 1-2 minutes of the game, Vermont held off Stony Brook 51-43 on Saturday to win the America East tournament and earn the Catamounts their fifth NCAA tournament bid.
In 2005, 13th-seeded Vermont shocked fourth-seeded Syracuse 60-57 in overtime for its only NCAA tournament victory.
Seven years later Four McGlynn scored 14 points and tournament MVP Brian Voelkel had five points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Vermont (22-11), which made five free throws without a field goal after taking a 46-29 lead with 9:55 to play.
''In the timeouts, honest, all I talked about was defense,'' first-year coach John Becker said. ''We had a lead, we had to get stops. We had to keep it simple, defend and rebound. Fortunately we got enough points.''
Even though they finished with 17 points less than their season average, the Catamounts held the Seawolves to a season low.
''It was a great defensive game and it's a credit to the way our kids compete on the defensive end of the court,'' Becker said. ''We made some timely shots and when it got physical toward the end we hung in there and made some plays and we're going to the tournament.''
Vermont's last NCAA appearance was in 2010 and all of its bids have been since 2003.
Becker became just the second first-year coach to win the conference title, joining Karl Fogel of Northeastern in 1986. When the buzzer sounded he threw his arms in the air and then turned to his assistants for a group hug that ended when the Vermont fans in attendance stormed the court to celebrate with the players.
''It's a surreal feeling right now,'' Becker said. ''We were talking earlier today about our first meeting in July that we wanted to be here and now we are.''
Dave Coley and Al Rapier had 10 points each for Stony Brook (22-8), which lost in the conference championship game for the second straight season. The Seawolves, who have never been to the NCAA tournament, are guaranteed a berth in the NIT as regular season champions.
''Vermont was better today. If you don't score you can't win and we couldn't score,'' Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. ''Our defense was good but we couldn't score. We. picked the wrong day not to shoot the ball at all. I'm really pleased with these guys. I wouldn't trade them for 10 trips to the NCAA and I mean that. We have more games to play. A lot of teams go home. We're going to play in the NIT.''
Both teams had thrilling semifinals wins. Vermont beat Hartford 77-73 in double-overtime. Stony Brook needed a tip-in by Dallis Joyner with .4 seconds left to beat Albany 57-55.
There was no such drama with the title on the line until the Seawolves made a run that got them within 47-43 with a minute to play. The Catamounts then made four of six free throws to seal the win.
Vermont became just the fourth visiting team to win in the 29 conference championship games.
''We were loose coming in and felt the pressure was on them playing at home,'' Vermont senior Matt Glass said. ''We came out and played loose on offense and competed on the defensive end the way we always do. When things weren't going our way we were able to stick with the game plan and grind it out.''
Stony Brook finished 17 of 58 from the field (29.3 percent), including 4 of 19 from 3-point range. The Seawolves went 7 of 44 from 3-point range in the three games against Vermont this season.
Voelkel's 3-pointer gave the Catamounts the 17-point lead but that was their last field goal of the game. Coley scored eight points in a 12-2 run that brought Stony Brook within 47-41 with 5:21 left. That was the Seawolves' last field of the game, and they got within four when Bryan Dougher made two of three free throws with a minute left.
''It was frustrating a little,'' Pikiell said of the shooting woes. ''I thought we were getting decent looks. We kept fighting. That's what we've done since these guys arrived. Just like usual: fight, scratch, claw, find a way in the basket. We were able to make it a game but you've got to make shots. Basketball isn't that complicated, it really isn't. We just didn't score enough points today''
The Stony Brook senior class has 75 wins. The Stony Brook program had 84 in eight years in Division I until they arrived.
''You work for four years and don't realize it until the very end,'' senior Bryan Dougher said, his voice choking with emotion. ''Vermont didn't hurt themselves. They never do. We shot terrible. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. It's basketball.
Vermont took advantage of a horrible shooting start by the Seawolves and led 22-9 with 6:30 left in the first half.
Stony Brook missed 17 of its first 20 shots from the field. Rapier made four of his first six shots making the rest of the team 1 for its first 16.
The Catamounts led 26-19 at the half shooting 47.9 percent (11 of 23) while the Seawolves made 29.6 percent (8 of 27), including only one of eight 3-point attempts.
Stony Brook plays its home games in 1,700-seat Pritchard Gym and conference rules mandate the championship game has to be played in a building that has a capacity of at least 3,000.
Stony Brook Arena, which is adjacent to Pritchard and was home to the Seawolves until three years ago, was sold out with a crowd of 4,500 and there were scalpers in the parking lot outside before tipoff.