The times they are a’changing.
1,650 people crammed into Pritchard Gymnasium on Wednesday night and it was certainly something new.
Last year, a student could have shown up to a game half an hour late and have an entire row to himself. Last night, the same student would have been turned away had he shown up a half an hour early.
It was something special seeing a large number of students, some coming to a basketball game for the first time, spilling onto the floor to celebrate.
The program that could never suddenly had. The Seawolves had won their first America East championship in basketball program history, and had done it in front of a sold-out gym.
It was a far cry from a basketball game at Stony Brook when Head Coach Steve Pikiell took over the program five years ago.
‘It took time,’ Pikiell said, reflecting on the journey from worst to first following his team’s conference-clinching victory. ‘I mean my first game-I have a picture in my office, we played Columbia-there were five people in the stands. I think [Stony Brook Athletic Director Jim Fiore]’s relatives and my relatives were the five. Times have changed.’
I’m no math student, but 1,650 is much, much greater than five. And 1,650 combined to one voice, one student body cheering on and believing in a Stony Brook Seawolves team, that one is much, much, much greater than five.
Some fans have been there for years. Members of the marching band have driven school spirit since the band’s inception.
A handful of students that comprised the official Red Zone have been loud at basketball and football games alike.
Frats and sports teams adopted individual games, making noise for the sake of being heard.
But Wednesday night was something different. Maybe it was the way that everyone in the gym was wearing a red shirt. Maybe it was the sizeable, though rapidly shrinking, Seawolves lead. But as the crowd rose as one to express its appreciation for a Tommy Brenton diving steal in the second half, Seawolves Country was more than just a marketing slogan.
Home court advantage has been real. Stony Brook was undefeated at home during conference play this year, and lost only one game on campus all season.
Teams that before thought of Stony Brook as a neutral site were forced to deal with passionate support.
‘Our students are learning to become better basketball fans,’ Coach Pikiell said.
The challenge now is to transport that home court advantage in the form of two busloads of students to Hartford for the America East championship tournament.
Two victories in Hartford would bring the Seawolves home to the fortress that Pritchard has become, or at least to a venue nearby.
If the Seawolves can earn one more home game, and win just one more home game, they will head to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, completing an incredible program turnaround from basement dweller to champion.
And that would be a welcome change indeed.