Stony Brook University basketball remaining focused following ban from conference tournament

Stony Brook University Women's basketball
Stony Brook University Athletics

When Stony Brook University women’s basketball coach Ashley Langford heard the news that the American East Conference wasn’t going to allow the Seawolves to participate in its postseason tournament, the team was on the road upstate in Binghamton. 

Langford was flooded with a mix of emotions from anger to sadness and ultimately, disappointment, for the women she coaches that now won’t be able to play in the conference tournament. It took Langford a little longer than usual to meet up with her team for their morning meal.

“I came down to breakfast late, they probably didn’t even realize that,” Langford said in a phone interview with amNewYork. “I had to get my stuff together, but yeah it was tough. It was a tough morning.”

The American East’s decision came in response to Stony Brook announcing earlier this month that they’d be leaving the conference to join Long Island rival Hofstra University in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). The American East’s bylaws state that once a school announces its intention to leave, its sports teams become ineligible for league postseason play “on a date to be determined by the remaining members of the Board of Presidents.”

The league unanimously voted to ban Stony Brook for its conference playoffs and threw a wrench into the middle of the women’s and men’s basketball seasons. The women are first in the conference with just one loss against American East opponents with only two losses overall.

The men had been in second in the conference when the news was announced.

“Where we’ve got to keep our focus is on what’s today,” men’s head coach Geno Ford said about his team’s mentality following the news. “Today is a practice or today is a game. When you’re 22 years old and you’ve been in locker rooms for four years and you’re a senior, you’ve heard a lot of motivational talks.”

The women’s team has used the American East’s decision as an extra bit of motivation, defeating Binghamton on the day the news was handed down and then routing NJIT in their following contest.  They had won 10 straight entering Wednesday’s meeting with UMass Lowell.

Langford used that extra time before speaking with her team after initially learning of the American East Decision to come up with a plan of how to move forward and have answers for her players.

“I didn’t have very long to sit in that feeling sorry for ourselves,” she said.

“I think for us we’re just playing for each other now,” graduate forward McKenzie Bushee said. “You come into a season and you work hard, and you do have that end goal. You know what you want to do and now it took a little bit of a turn for us, but we play for each and we all play well together. I think that’s making us play even better now because we can all connect on the court and we know what want to do now.”

Bushee added: “It made us have a little fire underneath of us when we play.”

The university has pledged to try and fight the conference’s decision. In a statement put out on Feb. 2, Stony Brook athletics director Shawn Heilbron said the American East’s decision “did nothing to advance the interests of the conference, but instead punishes Stony Brook University’s talented student-athletes.” 

“Stony Brook plans to review all options, legal and otherwise, to address this decision,” the statement later read. 

While the conference’s decision eliminates league postseason play, both basketball programs can earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It’s a tougher road, but gives the Seawolves the hope that there could still be more basketball to play after the regular season. 

“I feel like we have a lot to prove this year because once you’re on top everyone wants to knock you off,” graduate forward Leighah-Amori Wool said. “I think we’ve done a great job of showing that we deserve to be at the top and belong at the top. The rest of the games that we are playing…are definitely for us, but to show everyone we know why we’re here, why we’re at the top and what we’re gonna do.”