Stony Brook’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena has been good to Vermont and head coach John Becker.
The Catamounts have won each of their first two meetings with the Seawolves on the $21.1 million renovated arena floor. In their first game against Stony Brook on Feb. 7, 2015, Vermont came back from down 17 to score 25 of the game’s final 33 points to pull off a 57-48 victory.
Becker’s first America East championship game appearance as head coach was on this floor, albeit prior to its renovation, when the Catamounts defeated Stony Brook 51-43 to capture another title. In that game, Vermont led by as many as 17.
But things are very different entering Saturday. The Seawolves enter as the favorite and have only lost to two teams all year on their home floor, but one of them is the Catamounts, who beat Stony Brook 76-62 on Feb. 27 to ruin senior night.
“It is a really loud place to play, it’s as loud as any place in our league,” Becker said. “We do have confidence, we came back from 17 points down two years ago and won, and won on senior day a coupe of weeks ago, so it gives us confidence, but again this is a new game and a totally different environment.”
“We have good memories in that building. but understand that this is going to be a completely new challenge and a new game. We know it’s going to be a huge task to win down there again.”
The task of beating this time for a second time, which no team has yet to do this season, will be a tall task for the Catamounts. Vermont barely made it to this point, and were on the verge of collapsing a month ago after being swept by UMass Lowell, but they have since won seven in a row.
“Where we were a couple of weeks ago, it was hard to imagine us being where we are right now,” Becker said. “We’re certainly loose and confident, but I think they’ve been the class of the league all year and kind of expected to be here. They’re playing at home, so they’ll definitely be the heavy favorite.”
The last time Vermont lost on Long Island was a 67-64 setback at Pritchard Gym on Jan. 24, 2014, their only loss in a 15-1 regular season in conference play. But that was a different team then, the only players on that team left are Ethan O’Day, who scored 16 points off the bench, to go with Kurt Steidl (13 points) and Dre Wills (2 minutes played).
“It’s nice that we just played them, so once we start getting back into the game plan hopefully it will come back to the players pretty quickly, since we recently played them,” Becker said. “I’ll really just focus in on the details, focus in on the game plan and just make sure we practice hard and the guys don’t get too ahead of themselves, but I also want the guys to enjoy this and be confident. It’s really just an honor to be playing a meaningful game this late in the year.”
In their second meeting, the Catamounts mixed up matchup zone defense as well as man to man to confound the Seawolves to their lowest output (0.90 points per possession) since their loss at Northeastern on Dec. 12.
Since that game Stony Brook has seen plenty of zone in their two America East Playoff wins over UMBC and Hartford, each of which were won by double digit margins. Becker said they will continue to look for combinations to try to stop three time America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney and his teammates.
“It’s just continuing to find a combination of finding stuff within, what you do that you think will help keep them off balance,” Becker said.”We’ll do that this week, we’ll go through that through the tape and continue to try to find some things that will work, but really this year, more than any other year for me especially during the seven game winning streak, we’ve been able to find some more things defensively that have helped us and that involves changing defenses quite a bit more than I have in the past.”
“We’ll continue to change our defenses up and try to find some things that seem to be working and go with them, but Warney’s a great player. It’s hard to slow him down, but we have a lot of guys we can throw at him, we got a bunch of defenses we can try, so we’ll just keep doing both of those until we can find something that hopefully will work.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.