(photo courtesy: Vermont Athletics)

Vermont 76, Stony Brook 62: Ernie Duncan Outshines Seawolves Senior Night

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Fewer groups of seniors have had an impact on the Stony Brook program more than the three honored 10 minutes before the game, but Vermont hardly cared by the time the ball tipped off on Saturday night.They were not fazed by the sellout crowd and put up a lead that ballooned to 17 in the first half, the largest deficit the Seawolves faced at home all season. The last time that happened, it was against Columbia on Jan. 2 and Stony Brook came back to win 69-60. This time the Catamounts continued to pound the Seawolves in the second half and left with a 76-62 victory.

“They’re still the team to beat in our conference, they’re the number one seed, but we’ve been playing much better lately and we put it all together tonight,” Vermont head coach John Becker said. “We’re playing well and we’re excited for the playoffs.”

Stony Brook appeared to begin to turn the tide when Jameel Warney blocked a drive from Trae-Bell Haynes after he got by his man, Carson Puriefoy, off the wing. That led to a run out and an emphatic Ahmad Walker dunk that cut the lead to 61-55, but after a timeout Becker drew up an answer.

On their next play, Bell-Haynes took the ball screen from Ethan O’Day, but while in traffic found a cutting Drew Urquhart who drew a foul on his layup by Walker.

“They got real aggressive in the second half and Warney erased everything at the rim, but we just wanted our guys to continue to attack the rim and they did,” Becker said. “They showed courage on getting fouls and we found shooters when we drove and drew help.”

The sophomore would sink both free throws to put the Catamounts up eight, Puriefoy saw his three-point try go in and out on the next possession and Stony Brook would never close the gap any further.

Redshirt freshman Ernie Duncan tied his career-high with 23 points, set last against Albany on Feb. 6 in a loss. Their win dealt Stony Brook their first home loss since Feb. 7, 2015, which also came at the hands of Vermont, by double digits.

The win by Vermont is the largest margin of victory against the now top seeded Seawolves since Notre Dame’s 86-61 victory on Dec. 8 over Stony Brook. Both second seed Albany, who beat Stony Brook in their last meeting 82-70, and the Catamounts have now given the Seawolves double digit losses in their second meeting.

“The only part that matters is Wednesday and our guys will be ready to play,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “We got through every obstacle this year: injuries, deaths in families, we had all kinds of things, so we’ve overcome a lot and to have the great season that we had to date. We’re looking forward to the next chapter here.”

When asked whether or not it was a concern the way that Vermont beat them, Pikiell was abrupt.

“No,” Pikiell said. “Make free throws, I don’t know what to tell you, you got to make free throws and open shots. I’m not really worried, I think we’re good and I think we’ve proven we’re good, but we’ll prove it again, that’s what we have to do.”

Here are three thoughts from the Catamounts win over the Seawolves on Saturday night:

A Different #20 Was the Star – This night was set up to honor Jameel Warney, who will likely easily coast on Monday to his third straight America East Player of the Year award in three seasons. However, on this night, it was another 20 who took the limelight.

The 6’3” redshirt freshman torched the Seawolves early and was unafraid to pull from any spot on the floor. He made four three-pointers on the night, but those weren’t what hurt Stony Brook, it was the confidence in which the Evansville, Ind. product glided through the lane to get by and beat Seawolf defenders.

“I think after I hit a few shots early and got to the free throw line, I can feel my shots going in so I become more aggressive,” Duncan said.

He made free throws to start, then drained a three-pointer and his next shot was a runner in the lane that he missed, found his own rebound and put it back. It was his three-pointer that put the Catamounts up 37-20 and prompted Steve Pikiell to take his second timeout of the half.

All night Duncan proved to be a nuisance and even when he didn’t make shots, he set up Kurt Steidl to drain a three from the left wing to put Vermont up 49-34 in the second half after Drew Urquhart grabbed an offensive rebound over Warney. He proved his confidence in getting by guys like Lucas Woodhouse and leading the way on 8-12 shooting, with three assists in 34 minutes.

“I know I can do it and I really haven’t done it this whole year, to be honest,” Duncan said of his confidence to get by other players. “These past few games I’ve been starting to show, I feel like I’m getting my legs and like kind of myself. It’s kind of coming back and it’s exciting to see.”

It will be plenty exciting if the freshman can carry this type of performance into the America East playoffs. The Catamounts have now won five in a row and Duncan has averaged 15.2 ppg over the last seven games.

“Ernie Duncan played the best game of his career, he was unstoppable,” Becker said. “Ernie got going right from the jump and gave everyone a lot of confidence. Every time they made a run it seemed like Ernie had an answer.”

Wake Up Call for Seawolves – This was one of Stony Brook’s worst offensive performances of the season. They scored 62 points in 69 possessions, their only lower output was against Northeastern (0.88) and made only five three-pointers. Pikiell lamented their free throw shooting, a paltry 7-19 (36.8%), but even making those 12 would not have cut the deficit.

“I wouldn’t say a wake up call,” Puriefoy, who had 16 points, said. “We knew coming in Vermont was a good team and we missed free throws, we missed open shots, the ball just wasn’t falling tonight and that happens.”

Warney, who was held to 13 points and eight rebounds, said the way they fell was a concern, losing their first home game of the season.

“It’s sort of a wake up call,” Warney said. “Just know that you can be beat at any time, we’re not invincible at home, teams aren’t going to back down from us even though we’re playing at home for the next few games, If we win.”

Now the margin of error gets even slimmer. The Seawolves need to find another shooting weapon. Roland Nyama came of the bench and fired the hardest three-pointer of the night, that hit off the back rim and the Seawolves struggled to beat a 2-3 zone when presented with it for part of the night. Puriefoy made four three-pointers, but his teammates made just one of their six shot attempts from deep.

Stony Brook got down after making 40% of their two-pointers in the first half, while they finished with 48.8% from two, they still need to find an option beside the seniors with the loss of Sekunda, who made 42% of his three-pointers. In their last two games, the Seawolves have made 9 of 24 (37.5%) of their three-pointers and in games this season where Stony Brook has made five or fewer three’s: their record is 5-6.

“We have to come in and just play the best basketball at the best time,” Warney said. “We have to. We can’t have one slip up, because one slip up is us losing and now we’re out, so we have to play together as a team for 40 minutes. At the end of the day, at the end of 40 minutes, just be up by one, by any means necessary.”

Stony Brook’s Seniors Get Recognition They Deserve – While they did not get the win, 10 minutes prior to the game the senior class of Warney, Puriefoy and McGrew were honored with their families.

Jameel Warney will leave Island Federal Credit Union Arena as the program’s leading scorer and rebounder. Carson Puriefoy will leave as the fourth player in program history to score over 1,400 points.

“It didn’t pan out the way we wanted it, but it’s great to just reflect on our four years here and Ray three years here,” Warney said. “So we’re happy and we are appreciative about our fans and how they support us and admire us. We just love senior night, I guess.”

Puriefoy added, “It’s been a great four years and three years with Ray and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to play with them. It’s not over yet, we still have more home games to play, which is great and play in front of our fans senior night, it’s going to be something I remember for the rest of my life; having all our families here. Even though it didn’t pan out the way we wanted to, like Jameel said, it’s still a special night to have.”

Ray McGrew joined the team as a sophomore and early on in practices in his first season struggled to get it, but when he did later that season, he’s become “their X factor” according to opposing coaches.

“It means a lot, especially for me, being a guy that’s from so far away to have my family come out for their first home game with me was amazing,” McGrew said. “Just to share my last regular season home game with these two guys that I went through a lot of wars with it just means a lot, just to cherish all we have and coach included.”

There’s hardly any doubt that this senior class will leave as one of the most heralded in their history and now they will look to accomplish what Pikiell and his program have yet to accomplish.

“The type of people they are is what I’m most proud of and they’re all graduates,” Pikiell said. “You can’t get a better group and we certainly try to make this special for them at the end.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.