By Peter Schwartz
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When you think about basketball in our area, you think of New York City. After all, it’s commonly referred to as the “mecca of basketball” because of the rich history of the Knicks, St. John’s and so many great high school players that have come from the five boroughs.

Throw in the Brooklyn Nets, as well as colleges such as Seton Hall, Rutgers, Fordham, Hofstra and Iona, and the New York/New Jersey area has no shortage of basketball for the entertainment dollar.

But today, off Exit 62 on the Long Island Expressway, the best basketball in the area just might be taking place at Stony Brook University. The Seawolves are 14-4 overall and are 5-0 and atop the America East Conference standings. They will take a 10-game winning streak into Friday’s 9 p.m. conference showdown at home against Albany (15-5, 4-1).

Winning has become commonplace at Stony Brook in recent years, and the local basketball community has started to take notice.

“We’ve been consistently good for a long time,” said coach Steve Pikiell, in his 11th season with Stony Brook. “Everyone can have one year where they’re pretty good, but it’s been six or seven straight years that we’ve been good.”

Pikiell is the school’s all-time winningest coach with 180 victories. And while he’s had some pretty good teams at Stony Brook, this year’s squad might be his best. This team could very well be the group that busts the door down and punches that elusive ticket to the NCAA tournament.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Pikiell. “We played some very difficult games early on the road and figured out our lineup a little bit and figured out our rotation. The guys have jelled nicely, and they’re playing very well.”

Pikiell has helped turn Stony Brook into a local basketball powerhouse, including five 20-win seasons and three NIT berths. In fact, the Seawolves have made it to the America East tournament final in four of the last five years, but they’ve yet to cut down the nets and go to the big dance.

None of those losses hurt more than last season’s final, when Peter Hooley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Albany a 51-50 win.

Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)

Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)

This season, the Seawolves have some unfinished business to take care of.

“There’s a lot of fire and motivation,” said senior forward Jameel Warney. “We feel like every game we should be playing like it’s the last.”

At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, Warney is averaging 19.5 points per game and 10.7 rebounds. A product of Roselle Catholic High School in New Jersey, Warney has evolved into the total package since he arrived on campus four years ago.

“He really has, and he’s gotten better over the years, so I’m really proud,” said Pikiell. “From freshman year to senior year, he’s improved to the point where he was Defensive Player of the Year last year in the league.”

Warney remembers the feeling walking off the court in Albany last season and believes the Seawolves are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year.

“We have a group of guys with a chip on our shoulders,” he said.

Warney has been a big part of Stony Brook’s success, but he’s also received plenty of help from players such as senior guard Carson Puriefoy (13.9 ppg) and junior guard Ahmad Walker (10.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

And all of this great basketball is now on display in a top-notch facility.

With the school’s success and growth has come a new home for Stony Brook basketball. Last year, the beautiful, 4,000-seat Island Federal Credit Union Arena opened, and it has become one of the crown jewels of the campus and a big part of the program and the community.

Stony Brook's Island Federal Credit Union Arena. (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)

Stony Brook’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena. (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)

“It’s helped us tremendously in recruiting,” Pikiell said. “It’s a great venue to watch a basketball game. Our marketing people do a great job of making it just not a basketball game, but it’s an event now.”

The arena, where the Seawolves are 7-0 this season, will be on display for the whole country to see Friday night when the game against Albany is televised on ESPNU. Although there are limited tickets available, the game is expected to be a sellout making for quite the atmosphere.

“It’s really exciting,” Warney said. “At the end of the day, it’s just one more game, but it will be exciting to be on national television and play against our great rival.”

There’s only one game separating the two teams in the America East standings, so there’s going to be a lot on the line when Stony Brook and Albany step onto the court in front of a sea of red.

“It’s another important league game,” said Pikiell. “It’s going to be nationally televised. We’re going to have a packed house, so it will be a great environment, and we’re looking forward to a great game.”

It should be a great game in a great venue. That’s not something that people would have said about Stony Brook basketball years ago. But times are different now. The Seawolves have a terrific team and a great product for local basketball fans to come out and see.

It shouldn’t be that hard to find the arena if you want to attend the game. When you get to Exit 62 on the LIE, just follow the crowd on Nicholls Road.

For Stony Brook basketball ticket information, click here.

Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan.

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