Stony Brook 59, New Hampshire 58: Seawolves Hang On For 18th In A Row

STONY BROOK, N.Y. – The $11 billion question – or whatever the NCAA is getting paid to broadcast the NCAA Tournament these days – in America East is: Can Stony Brook be beaten?

Even with its recent postseason history of heartbreak, the Seawolves have looked so unstoppable of late, racking up 17 straight wins, far and away the current NCAA leader. In America East play, only one of their 12 victories heading into Sunday’s game with New Hampshire was in single digits (Albany). Add the fact that Stony Brook will likely (almost assuredly) be home throughout the America East Tournament, and it might be time for the rest of the conference to abandon all hope.

But although upstart New Hampshire ended up falling 59-58 Sunday, the upstart Wildcats might have given the rest of the league, themselves included obviously, a glimmer of hope. New Hampshire had been throttled 80-50 last month in Durham, but – playing in honor of their missing coach (Bill Herrion’s mother died Saturday, so he was not in attendance), the Wildcats had a few chances to win down the stretch and did it while shooting just 21-63 from the field (and were also without junior Jacoby Armstrong, who was serving the final game of his team suspension). At one point in the first half, the Wildcats missed 14 straight field goals and went 8:30 without a bucket.

“We had a shot to win it,” New Hampshire associate head coach Ken Dempsey, who split duties with Chris Mohr said. “We wanted to come in here and battle, they’re the best team in the league for a reason, they have the longest winning streak in the country for a reason. But for us, there’s no trophy handed out today. We’ve got to finish our season the right way. We have four games left and we have to make sure we take care of business and then we’ll look to the (America East) Tournament.”

As you don’t have to tell Stony Brook (22-4, 13-0), however, each game is its own challenge, and being a favorite is no guarantee to anything. But the Seawolves can take some positives out of the proceedings as well, winning a tight game that it easily could have lost despite shooting poorly (4-17 from three, 43.1 eFG%) after leading America East in most offensive categories including efficiency coming in. Lucas Woodhouse and Carson Puriefoy combined to go 2-12 from behind the arc and Jameel Warney “only” had 16 points and eight rebounds (thanks to good defense from Iba Camara), although he had eight blocks including one as time ran out on a Jaleen Smith shot that would have won the game.

“Win by one and get on the bus is our philosophy,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “We really don’t spend a lot of time talking about our winning streak. We talk about how we play and what our cores are. We have one day to prepare for most of these games this time of year, so we don’t have time to talk about all that stuff. Albany is next, and we’ll try to be ready.”

Albany is indeed next at SEFCU Arena Wednesday night, site of two of Stony Brook’s recent America East Tournament losses, and its final tall hurdle between themselves and an undefeated conference season (Yale and Stephen F. Austin are currently the only other two Division I teams to be unbeaten in conference play).

“We’ve been having a lot of games that we were winning easily, so we knew we were going to get their best shot,” Warney said. “We love pressure right now. We know we have to be playing our best basketball and the best time and that time is coming. We just want to be in the best position to win the league.”

One thing Warney won’t have to worry about in the next few weeks is pressure.

What else did we learn from Island Federal Credit Union Arena (do we get $1 for mentioning the sponsor) Sunday?:

Game 87: New Hampshire at Stony Brook – Every one of these seats will be filled on this 7-degree day. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

1) Condolenses to Bill Herrion and family on his mother’s passing

Herrion’s father, Jim, also a coach, died in 1978, while Bill was a student at Merrimack, and one of the positives about coming to New Hampshire a decade ago was to be closer to his mother in Worcester, Mass., after a wandering career that saw him have great success as a young head coach at Drexel, mixed results at East Carolina, and then the move to New Hampshire, where he had his best season last year and appears to have the long dormant program headed in the right direction.

Bill’s brother Tom is a former head coach at Charleston and Marshall who is now an assistant at Georgia Tech.

“There’s things that are more important than basketball,” Dempsey said. “Bill is a great leader, he’s great with the kids, and they responded in the best way that they could pay tribute to him and what he and his family are going through.”

Game on from sold-out Stony Brook. #TMMLegacy

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2) Tanner Leissner is a star

Much of what set New Hampshire (15-10, 8-4) back earlier in the season was a concussion to Leissner. In the first meeting with Stony Brook, Leissner scored only a single point and went 0-9 from the field. But he was coming off games of 21, 26, and 20, and added another 26 on Sunday against the league’s best defense, even able to score over Warney a couple of times (he did not touch the ball on the final possession, however), and is now America East’s third leading scorer.

He doesn’t have a traditional game at a very thin 6’7″ and is not a pure outside shooter with great form (he was 2-5 from three and is at about 32% for the season), which may be the reason pretty much every Division I team passed on him out of Converse, Texas. You wonder how long players like Leissner – the reigning America East Rookie of the Year – and Antwon Portley (who might be this season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year) can escape Texas without being noticed by the schools down there. The answer might be: not for long.

For the present, however, Leissner and the rest of New Hampshire’s Texas connection are poised to lead the program to heights it hasn’t seen since the move to Division I three decades ago (last season’s 19 wins was the most in Division I history).

3) Should Stony Brook fans be worried or nah?

It’s a bizarre system, the one-bid conferences, where surely everything rides on what Stony Brook will do in March, even though it has clearly been dominant all regular season. And given the history, it’s also natural to be nervous about what’s coming.

But as Pikiell said, I wouldn’t be any more worried after this New Hampshire game than I was before. If they get a game where they aren’t shooting well, the Seawolves are just going to have to hope that someone steps up. Between Warney, Carson Puriefoy, Ahmad Walker, Reyshaun McGrew, Woodhoouse, and Bryan Sekunda, Pikiell has plenty of options, and will have a raucous crowd behind them.

That has failed them before, of course, but probability and sheer numbers tell us they are still clearly the prohibitive favorite to finally get it done, get the elephant off their back, and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve been scoring a lot of points, so I like the fact that we had to defend to win a little,” Pikiell said. “We’ve been the best three-point shooting team in the league and we missed a lot of shots, shots that we’ve been making. You still have to find a way to win, and that’s what I like most about today’s game, that we did against a team that was playing really well.”

Said Puriefoy: “We made enough stops. We can win the game both ways, offense or defense. And today we had to win the game with defense when our offense wasn’t getting it done.”

Bonus) Dunk of the Year?

This was fantastic from Woodhouse and Warney, so feel free to watch as many times as you wish

 

Double Bonus) Ferry or no ferry?

The question in America East has long been asked, is it quicker to drive through New York or take the ferry from Stony Brook? Well, I got off the ferry in Bridgeport, hopped on I-95, got on the ramp, and pulled into traffic right behind the New Hampshire bus.

So I guess it’s a draw.

Good night from Stony Brook, where the Seawolves stayed in the green, but barely. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on