Stony Brook picked up their first victory in the NIT Season Tip-Off, beating Western Kentucky 71-61 in front of 2,522 at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Tuesday night. Junior Jameel Warney led the way with a characteristic double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds, while his classmate Carson Puriefoy carried the team late with a game-high 21 points and some critical steals.
In a game that saw the Hilltoppers open with a 11-1 run, then have a Stony Brook 20-2 run in the same half, the Seawolves secured the victory by making 17 of their 21 second half free throws. Here are three thoughts from the Seawolves victory over the Conference USA team, which marks their second straight season with a win over a team from that conference.
Stony Brook Deals with the Pressure – The Seawolves turned it over just 11 times, and emphasize the just because it could have been a lot more. Western Kentucky, especially in the second half, pressured the Seawolves and threw almost everything they could to try and trap Stony Brook and force tough passes.
“The ball movement to break through the trap was beautiful,” Puriefoy said of his team’s press breaking. “Their big men, they’re fast, they’re athletic, they’re all really athletic and that’s a testament to them, but we handled their pressure pretty well I think.”
Stony Brook turned the ball over seven times in the second half, a few which were careless turnovers after breaking the press. Not only did the Seawolves see plenty of press, but Western Kentucky switched from man to a 2-3 zone throughout and Stony Brook managed to finish with 71 points on 69 possessions.
“We got everything tonight,” Pikiell said. “We played a team that plays multiple defenses and we were able to handle them and get the ball where it needed to be.”
“We only had 11 turnovers, which was good against a team like that, the last game the played [against Belmont] the team had 20 turnovers. I thought we they were a good test for a lot of different reasons, because they showed us a lot of different defenses.”
Sturdivant Shines Under Spotlight – Immediately after the Seawolves trailed 11-1, Steve Pikiell called a timeout and freshman Tyrell Sturdivant entered the game. His presence and difference was felt right away, as it would be throughout the game.
Sturdivant grabbed an offensive rebound off of Warney’s free throw miss and put it back to cut the lead to 11-7 early and his effort constantly showed. In three of the next four possessions, the freshman was active; grabbing rebounds, picking up a steal and playing solid enough post defense to lead his man into Warney’s help. Not only that, but he showed off a strong game from inside 10 feet, tying the game at 11 with his shot off the window.
“Ty has just been great in practice, he’s getting better and better,” Pikiell said. “He’s got great hands, he’s a good passer.”
The coaching staff had been wanting the 6’7″ freshman to improve his defense, prior to the start of the season, and that showed prevalently in the game when he blocked 6’6″ senior John Fant, grabbed the loose ball and got a critical foul called on the big man who was the Hilltoppers’ strongest post threat all night.
“I think he could be special,” Pikiell said of Sturdivant. “I’m real pleased with him.”
He finished the night with 10 points, eight rebounds – three of which were offensive rebounds – three assists, a block and a steal. Once he adds about 15 pounds, Sturdivant will be a strong player in the league and a crafty power forward given his athleticism, but that won’t prevent him from helping this team.
Nyama Shows Off Playmaking Ability – The 6’6” Frankfurt, Germany native showed off not only a hot streak, but also his active hands and athleticism.
The redshirt freshman intercepted a pass intended for T.J. Price at the top of the key and took it all the way with a two hand flush to put the Seawolves up 37-25, which capped off an 8-point first half, matching his previous high against Division III Merchant Marine Academy on Sunday. He went for a season high 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in the victory.
However his strongest assignment was shutting down Price, entering tonight’s game as Western Kentucky’s leading scorer, and keeping the 6’4″ senior out of the lane most of the night.
“I thought his defense was great tonight,” Pikiell said. “I know he fouled out, but he was guarding a guy who could play.”
“He had a tough assignment today in Price; Roland did yeoman’s work. He did a good job too of keeping him off the backboard.”
The redshirt freshman fouled out with 25.9 seconds left, drawing an ill-fated blocking foul on Trency Jackson, but throughout the night his athleticism showed as well as his strong defense.
“Roland plays with energy, I think he’s getting a little more confident,” Pikiell said. “He’s got great size. He’s got good athleticism and he’s a freshman.”
The Seawolves will need their rotation of freshmen, all of whom have carved out plenty of experience over the last five games, to improve as they keep testing their team. Next is a Thanksgiving date with LIU Brooklyn and the stars of tonight – Nyama and Sturdivant – will surely be on the opposing scouting report now.
“I think that whole class is going to help us win and I have faith in all of them,” Pikiell said. “We’ve played them all now, they’ve played in a lot of games, they’ve played terrific competition.”
“They have to keep growing and learning, so when our veterans are good, I feel real confident. Tre and Jameel have to handle the load, and if they do that, then those guys will chip in and do what they need to do.”
However, through five games the freshman class has shown they will have enough to help keep Stony Brook in contention come conference play.
“They’re growing up right in our eyes,” Warney said. “They’re playing key minutes. They’re maturing day by day, they’re the hardest workers, they made big time plays for us today.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.