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Bob Ryan

BU-Stony Brook was extra special

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 21, 2009
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A ticket to a sporting event is an investment carrying no guarantees.

Will it be a good game or bad game? Who knows? You pay your money and you take your chances. But the great thing about being a sports fan is that you never know.

You think the 518 people who found their way into Case Gymnasium Monday afternoon to see an unpretentious America East clash between 7-9 Boston University and 9-8 Stony Brook knew they were going to walk out of that gym having borne witness to Boston collegiate basketball history? You think they were ready for four overtimes, and not just four overtimes but four of the most competitive overtimes witnessed at any level, anywhere?

I rather doubt it.

"I'm not even sure where to start," said BU coach Dennis Wolff, who had just seen his team prevail in a 99-97 epic. "I'm so impressed with how hard Stony Brook played. But they didn't play any harder than our kids."

"Just an unbelievable game," declared Stony Brook mentor Steve Pikiell, who, like Wolff, is a University of Connecticut grad and a former Huskies assistant. "I just wish I was a fan; that's what I wish."

The players, coaches, and fans are all part of local basketball history. Alone among our four Division 1 schools, BU has a previous four-overtime game on its résumé (a 97-95 loss at Holy Cross in 1964). But it was the first four-overtime Division 1 game played in Boston. But what totally distinguished this extraordinary athletic event is that this wasn't merely your, pardon the expression, "ordinary" four-overtime game. This was one of the most competitive strings of overtimes any two teams have played.

Consider the regulation score: 56-56. Now look at the final score of 99-97 and do the math. All too often, overtimes are anticlimactic, sluggish, cautious, mistake-filled, and boring. But these kids slugged it out to the tune of a 43-41 full half of overtime basketball, and it came oh so close to being a five-OT game because Stony Brook freshman Tommy Brenton very nearly tipped in a Bryan Dougher jumper in the final millisecond.

The BU kids and the Stony Brook kids just kept making play after play after play for 20 minutes of overtime basketball.

Foremost among the BU playmakers were sophomore John Holland and junior Corey Lowe, the former scoring a career-high 29 points while playing all 60 minutes and the latter scoring all of his game-high 33 points following intermission after taking, and missing, just one shot in the first 20 minutes.

Holland is a 6-foot-5-inch forward out of famed St. Benedict's Prep in Newark. "He's like a Reggie Lewis-type player this league hasn't had," lauded Pikiell. We're talking about a serious go-to sort who is averaging 25.2 points per game in his last five outings and has made 11 of his last 21 3-point attempts.

No coach intends to play someone 60 minutes, but BU is down two key players, starting point guard Tyler Morris and valued scorer Carlos Strong, both with season-ending knee injuries, and Wolff, who plays only seven at the present time, couldn't get Holland off the floor. In fact, his starting five logged megaminutes, with Jake O'Brien and Lowe each going 56, Matt Wolff going 52, and Scott Brittain a mere 47 because he was the only player to foul out (1:22 left in the third OT), which itself is an amazing thing in a four-overtime game.

"It was a battle out there," said Holland, who wasn't moving too well when it was over. "I kept looking for ways to motivate myself, trying to keep my energy up."

Lowe, who teamed with Anthony Gurley at Newton North for one of the great backcourts in Massachusetts scholastic history, is playing out of position as a point guard in Morris's absence, and in the first half, he was neglecting his primary function, which is to score. Hence the 0 for 1. But the 6-2 combo guard made up for that in the second half and overtimes, mixing in his usual assortment of threes, mid-range jumpers, and power drives (he is built like a light heavyweight contender), the most significant of which was a transition lefthanded layup with four seconds left in the second overtime that tied the score at 76.

"In the first half, I wasn't trying to force anything," Lowe said with a shrug. "In the second half, I knew I had to make shots."

Stony Brook arrived with three freshman starters, two of whom played very strong games. Brenton, a 6-5 forward from Columbia, Md., finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds, while Dougher, whose grandfather, Jim, a former coach at Stonehill and Holy Cross, was in the stands, had 18 points in a 57-minute performance.

But the grittiest Stony Brook player was sophomore Chris Martin, a 6-1 southpaw built like a running back. This young man is playing with a terrible burden, as each day when a practice or game is ended, he gets in his car and drives from the Stony Brook campus in central Long Island to his home in Queens to see his father, Dalvado, a terminally ill cancer patient. Martin skipped the Seawolves' trip to play Air Force last week to be close to his ailing dad, but he showed up Monday and almost extinguished the Terriers, his 26 points featuring four 3-pointers, a pair of running second-OT bankers, and a free throw that gave his team a 76-71 lead with 1:08 to play.

That lead didn't hold up, as Weymouth freshman O'Brien nailed a straightaway three in advance of Lowe's aforementioned end-to-end drive.

All this OT business was necessary, by the way, because Stony Brook junior Muhammad El-Amin's response to a pair of Wolff free throws that had given BU a 56-53 lead with six seconds left in regulation was a contested buzzer-beating three.

Truth be told, the regulation play wasn't much. But something weird and wonderful suddenly came over these teams, starting with a first OT in which the first three baskets were threes by Martin and Holland twice, and which ended when a Wolff 50-footer spun around and out at the buzzer.

That 10-10 first OT set the tone. The second OT was another 10-10 deal capped by the great Lowe dash to the hoop. OT No. 3 was an 11-11 affair in which Holland and Dougher matched threes to start and the lead was never more than 2 thereafter. But BU did seize control of the fourth OT, twice going up by 7 (94-87, 96-89) before an El-Amin layup with 11 seconds left cut the lead to 98-97. Lowe made one of two free throws with seven seconds left to make it 99-97, but Stony Brook had one last chance and Brenton's tip narrowly missed creating OT No. 5.

So how do we account for these kids reaching such a high level in those OTs? "We've had a lot of trouble at home," Wolff pointed out. "But last Saturday in Binghamton [an 81-64 Terrier triumph], we were loose. And in the overtimes, I kept saying, 'Let's just play.' And we did. We played loose. We really competed."

And the Stony Brook Seawolves stayed right with them. "They'd throw a punch, we'd throw a punch," said Pikiell. "They just landed one more."

These kids weren't from North Carolina, or Kansas or UCLA or UConn or some pedigree school. These are kids who were deemed too small, too slow, too unathletic, or too something to warrant consideration from the big boys. Some are nursing grudges against the chalk schools. Others are grateful to be anywhere playing the game they love. But these kids came together on a Monday afternoon in Boston to put on a show unmatched anywhere in America.

Those 518 people got the maximum return on their investment.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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