WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – The problem for Stony Brook when it comes to this part of the season is no matter what they do, people will come back with, “Well, it’s not March yet, is it?”
We’ve gone over the postseason heartbreak for the Seawolves in America East and also the inherent ways in which the system is unfair to them, but what Stony Brook has done in the last few days has to impress you a little, no?
Two days after destroying New Hampshire, considered to be at least the fourth-best team in the conference, in Durham 80-50 and holding the Wildcats to 0.85 points per possession, Stony Brook came down to Hartford and they not only didn’t give the Hawks hope, they didn’t let them score en route to a 77-43 pummeling, holding Hartford to 0.65 ppp in the process.
Stony Brook (14-4, 5-0) has won 10 straight games for the first time since 2010, is up to No. 51 in the KenPom rankings, is 79-21 in its last 100 America East contests, is extremely likely to win 12 of its 16 conference games for the fifth straight season (and six of the last seven), has not only one of the top players in the country in senior Jameel Warney, but the top three America East players currently in KenPom (Ahmad Walker and Carson Puriefoy the other two).
Are you impressed yet? Should I continue? Yeah, yeah, yeah, March. Currently Stony Brook is 67 spots ahead of Albany (118) in KenPom, 103 over Vermont (154), and more than 200 in front of everyone else in the league: New Hampshire (263), UMBC (304), Maine (312), UMass Lowell (332), Hartford (334), and Binghamton (335). Their next contest is a showdown with long-time nemesis Albany Friday night on ESPNU, so they will have a little chance for people to take a little notice.
Otherwise, all they can do is keep doing their thing.
“We just finished this one, and it’s been a long road trip, so, look, we know Albany is good,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “We have a lot of games coming up here, and it’s still very early, so we just focus on the next one at hand, and we’ll have a few days to prepare for Albany and it should be a great game.”
As for Monday afternoon’s game, the early drought kind of ended any suspense. John Gallagher, without center John Carroll for the rest of the season, did a good job surrounding Warney, and who knows if the Hawks (6-13, 1-3) might have been able to hang if they could have hit a couple of shots early?
“I knew what they were coming in, especially what they did to New Hampshire up there, really hard to do that up there,” Hartford coach John Gallagher said. “I thought we had a solid gameplan and tempo was really in our favor early, but if you’re going to slow the tempo down, you have to make shots early, and obviously we did not.”
New trick: Hit reset button when you’re losing (we all know someone that does it) pic.twitter.com/JKDubO9Ehq
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 18, 2016
Warney was actually scoreless in a painfully slow first half until he scored the final four points to give his team a 32-17 edge at the break. Warney then scored four more points in a 9-0 run to start the second half, and the rest was for show, with the most interesting thing being the scoreboard buzzer sticking multiple times, forcing Hartford to bring out auxiliary scoreboards and stick them on the corners of the floor as shot clocks.
There were also two injuries in the second half, Bryan Sekunda (who has made eight of his last 15 three-pointers) turned an ankle and could not return (Steve Pikiell said if he could have come back, he would have), while Hartford’s Justin Graham took a charge from Warney and ended up with what appeared to be a broken nose in the process.
What else did we learn at Chase Family Arena Monday?
1) Jameel Warney can be patient
Hartford wanted to slow the game down as it’s 2-3 zone (with freshman TreVaughn Wilkerson getting his first start at center) collapsed on Warney at every opportunity. But Warney was happy to dish the ball off to Puriefoy, Sekunda, and Rayshaun McGrew, finishing with six rebounds and five assists. In the second half, Hartford was forced to chase the game and Warney was happy to take his share of offense, but he still finished with only nine field goal attempts (making five), with 11 rebounds. He did have one big dunk, though, on a behind-the-back pass from Puriefoy.
“There was a lot of trouble at the scorer’s table, so it kind of chopped the game up,” Pikiell said. “I guess getting off to that good start was great, but we had to reboot the whole thing after those delays. We were locked in the first four minutes of the second half, too, to kind of put the game away.”
2) Pancake drawing attention
One big bright spot for Hartford this season has been New Mexico transfer Pancake Thomas, who scored 29 against Vermont in his last outing, and whose 16.1 points per game (second behind Warney in America East) leads the Hawks by a pretty wide margin. However, that also means Thomas is going to see plenty of attention from opponents, especially a fantastic defensive team like Stony Brook. Thomas was held to just eight points on 4-16 shooting and was harassed by a few Seawolves, led by McGrew and Walker. Unfortunately for Hartford, no one else stepped up, either, with Evan Cooper coming off the bench to lead the Hawks with 10 points.
Although the Hawks are 1-3, they have played Vermont and Stony Brook now, so their goal is to find a way to sneak into fourth and get an America East Tournament home game, something they couldn’t do last season, falling at New Hampshire as the fifth seed.
“I’ll be frank, I went into the locker room after the game and said we’re playing for a top-four seed,” Hartford coach John Gallagher said. “If you look at the standings, it’s right there in front of us. If you look at our schedule, the way it broke, two on the road to start, then two at home against Vermont and Stony Brook, then two more on the road. So we have an opportunity in front of us coming up.”
3) Stony Brook’s defense
The Seawolves are now up to 40th nationally in defensive efficiency, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising, it is an area where Stony Brook has excelled consistently under Pikiell (they were 40th in the 2012-13 season which saw them finish 25-8, losing at Albany as the top seed in America East, but going on to win at UMass in the NIT).
But with Warney, Puriefoy, Walker, and McGrew, the Seawolves aren’t likely to give up too many easy buckets. Stony Brook has conceded less than 1.00 ppp in seven of eight games, with the only outlier being a home win over UMBC (who should be lauded for getting 1.14 ppp in a loss).
Bonus) Homecoming for Pikiell
Pikiell is from nearby Bristol and obviously played and coached for UConn, so he had a lot of fans and plenty of members from his close family to make the trip to West Hartford for a Monday matinee. Even Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman, who was on the UConn staff when Pikiell played and coached came over to say hello.
“We had a great weekend this weekend,” Pikiell said. “We played great basketball. I love the fact that we had 20 assists, we’re much better in that area this year. Hartford is a scary team the way she can shoot threes. We did a really good job on Pancake today, he’s a really good player. It’s always nice to win on the road, especially with a lot of family members here.”