The Vermont Catamounts find themselves alone in first place in the America East on a day that John Becker said earlier in the week would be an off day. Stony Brook fell 73-69 to New Hampshire and now the Catamounts control their own destiny in conference play.
1. The future is bright for Bill Herrion’s Wildcats – Freshmen Jaleen Smith and Jacoby Armstrong both start for New Hampshire and they both profile as impact players. Their classmate Daniel Dion impressed just as much, burning Stony Brook with his fifth straight double-digit scoring game. Despite making just one three-pointer in the first half, the Wildcats kept finding Dion and he was able to convert open looks including a three late to put New Hampshire up 71-69. “Once you see it go in it’s a great feeling,” Dion said. “Whenever the ball comes in the open spot, if I’m open coach wants me to shoot it.” Herrion said Dion looks physically like a high school kid, but fearless when it comes to shooting the ball. Once he builds up physcially, he could be one of the tougher shooting guards in the America East.
2. A healthy Tre goes a long way – Sophomore Carson Puriefoy, who missed the last three games with a groin injury, returned on Saturday and scored a game-high 18 points. For a team that scored 0.96 points per possession without him, Puriefoy’s presence could be felt as the attacking guard despite battling a groin injury. The sophomore didn’t appear as strong as he has been through the season in his drives to the lane after getting two practices under his belt prior to Saturday’s game. “I’m looking forward to that getting back in shape and getting my legs back under me,” Puriefoy said adding that he felt “about 80 percent” healthy. However, a healthy Puriefoy helps the Seawolves break down a 2-3 zone, something they struggled with in his absence. For Stony Brook, who relies so much on their transition offense when they have trouble in the half court, getting Puriefoy back will allow guards Anthony Jackson and Dave Coley as well as Ahmad Walker to get further into the lane.
3. Chris Pelcher, difference maker – Senior Chris Pelcher missed a significant amount of time this season due to an ankle injury. In the 11 games he missed, the Wildcats won just one game and Herrion said he has been the difference for a team that has won three of their last five. “It was just really hard for us to score,” Herrion said of Pelcher’s absence to the offense. “We guarded, we defended, we played hard, but he just puts a whole other element because when you’re playing him one on one he can score. When you really dig in on him and drop your defense, we play inside-out get open three’s. He really really helps the offense, he’s a presence out there.” Pelcher got the best of Jameel Warney on Saturday and the sophomore said that the senior got the best of him. “He’s a good player,” Warney said of Pelcher. “He’s very skilled, a great right hook, he was physical to me. He was a big reason why they won.” Pelcher was able to back down Warney in critical situations and his jump hook with the right hand from eight feet away gave the Wildcats a 68-67 lead in the final minutes and managed a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
4. Stony Brook is vulnerable, but also not healthy – It’s not an excuse, but a fact at this point of the season no team is at 100 percent. However, Puriefoy’s return and said he’s only at “80 percent”, his classmate Warney regularly tapes up his hand to protect his right thumb and senior Eric McAlister barely practiced after having flu-like symtoms for the last few days. “We haven’t played with a full squad since the Vermont game,” Warney said. “Everybody is not 100 percent, but that’s no excuse. We have to play 100 percent with everybody we have.” Pikiell said he was excited that he had a full roster for practice on Friday, but with a week between games the Seawolves will have a chance to get healthy. However even when healthy Stony Brook has serious holes in their game, with a free throw percentage just over 70 percent as well as been inconsistent getting to the line. The Seawolves have been plagued by droughts on offense throughout the season and forced into mistakes. The sophomore Warney tied a season-high with three turnovers, none more important than an errant pass to Scott King along the baseline. Warney, who notched his ninth double-double in the loss, said they were lucky to win over the last few games despite not playing their best and that Saturday’s loss might help in the long run. “Maybe it’s a good thing that we lost, because for the last two or three games we’ve been fortunate to come out with victories,” Warney said. “Now we can look ourself in the mirror and see who we are.” As of right now, they look like a ‘one and done’ CIT team.
5. Steve Pikiell’s trademark defense, circa 2009, ended well before this point – The Seawolves trademark defense is no more. Thanks to a combination of the new rules to increase offense as well as losing some key veterans, Stony Brook has allowed 1.05 points per possession for the season for the first time since the 2007-08 season. On Saturday, they allowed 1.14 points per possession to New Hampshire who had been the worst offensive team in conference play. Teams are consistently getting open looks against Stony Brook’s man to man defense, not only inside, but consistently from behind the three-point line. “It’s difficult because the way our defensive principles are set up, we have to bump the roller on the screen,” Puriefoy said after New Hampshire torched the Seawolves defense for 14 three-pointers. “It’s hard to get back to cover shooters.” Stony Brook’s big men have improved hedging ball screens, but the guards have had trouble covering shooters consistently.
Ryan Restivo covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.