It was death by 1,000 paper cuts — agonizingly slow and excruciatingly painful. Sixteen minutes and forty seconds without a field goal. Sixteen minutes and forty seconds of my life that I would never get back.
At least, that’s what it felt like at the time. Seven years later, I am thankful for the experience and for the perspective it provides me.
It was Friday night, March 2, 2007; the opening night of the America East Tournament – the “pillow-fight play-in game” — and the brand new Agganis Arena was a morgue. The announced attendance of a little more than 1,000, was, in reality, only a few hundred unenthusiastic fans filling the 6,000 seat arena with silence.
Taking the hardwood under second-year head coach Steve Pikiell, last-place Stony Brook had danced and dunked up a storm an hour before tipoff, before hitting eight-seed Hartford like a runaway freight train out of the opening tap.
Bionic-legged Seawolf senior Andre Vanterpool — wearing bright red, knee-high socks and cumbersome knee braces — hung elbows above the rim to corral a late, errant lob, before cocking it back behind his head and slamming down a monster two-handed alley-oop in traffic. Senior forward Mike Popoko, 6-feet-4-inches of effort and energy, fought his way to the rim for second chance points, and gunners Ricky Lucas and Tre Cunningham dissected the Hawks defense off the dribble. Stony Brook led by 20 at the half, 19 with 15:10 left and 17, 44-27, with just 12:38 remaining.
The game was well in hand; break out the champagne bottles and cigars.
And then the horror began. Stony Brook scored just three points the rest of the way, all at the free-throw line, as the Hawks rattled off a 22-3 run to close out the game.
The Seawolves final 16:40 of that fateful eve still stands as the absolute worst stretch of basketball I have ever seen in my entire life. (Keep in mind that I was a first-hand witness to BU’s 73-22 curb-stomping of Hartford, and no where during that monstrosity was there a stretch as bad as Stony Brook’s final 16:40). Every pass into the stands, every back court and shot clock violation, every air ball and drive to no where, was like 1,000 rusty knives stabbing me in my retinas.
With the game clock in single digits, Hartford senior Bo Taylor drove baseline, left-to-right, before hoisting up a contested 12-footer. As the final buzzer rang, Taylor’s jumper settled into the bottom of the net, completing Stony Brook’s epic collapse.
In addition to Vanterpool, the game marked the end of the careers of Seawolves’ seniors Popoko and Solomon Bamiro, who, along with red-shirt junior Mitchell Beauford and assistant coach Dan Rickard, were the lone holdovers and final connections to the Nick Macarchuk era and the 2004 quarterfinal upset of top-ranked Boston University (a team that had won 23 of its last 24 and gone 17-1 in league play), which still stands as the greatest single victory in school history.
Several hours after the game, a post game meal at the Sunset Cantina, and a slow drive back over the BU Bridge into Cambridge, my Grand Prix rattled over pothole strewn Edwin H Land Boulevard in the no man’s land that resembles a post-apocalyptic dystopia near the mouth of the Charles River. There were the Seawolves, still wearing their red and white warmups in the shadows cast by the lonely parking lot lights outside of the Royal Sonesta hotel, waiting to board their bus, as if trying to blow out of Dodge under the cover of darkness.
At the time, I thought Pikiell wasn’t long for the league. How little I knew back then. (more…)