For a majority of the Loyola/Stony Brook contest, it was truly a tale of two halves. After trailing by as many as 16 points deep in the first half, a more energetic Greyhound squad came out reinvigorated for the second stanza. Loyola began to wisely utilize their superior athleticism to their advantage, both in transition and half-court. A switch to a packed-in 2-3 zone made it more difficult for Jameel Warney to touch the ball in the low post. And Dylon Cormier, who came in averaging 23 points per game, was using his elite quickness to attack off the dribble and drive the lane.
A Greyhound 20-7 run to open the second half improbably tied the game at 51 apiece with 9:41 remaining, yet Stony Brook responded swiftly with a Warney turnaround and a Carson Puriefoy driving layup. Loyola would again tie the game late on a R.J. Williams coast to coast layup in transition, yet the Seawolves appeared to be firmly in control when the game was on the line. In Stony Brook’s final 12 possessions, they scored 18 points to close it out.
“We just did a poor job in the first half, and when you dig a hole, it’s so hard to come back,” said G.G. Smith after the game on the Patriot League Network broadcast. “We did a great job tying it up, but when you have guys expending energy trying to come back, we just didn’t have enough energy to finish the game. [Stony Brook] made plays at the end and we didn’t.”
The Seawolves arguably played their best 20 minutes of the season in the first half on Thursday evening. The offense posted 1.19 points per possession, in large part due to Warney’s playmaking with his back to the basket. The Seawolves offense efficiently went through the power forward, as he was touching the ball on nearly every possession. The 6’8” space carver had 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the first half. Furthermore, Stony Brook’s other big men, Anthony Mayo and RayShaun McGrew, combined for 12 points. Loyola’s lack of the size struggled to push Steve Pikiell’s big bodies off the low block. Stony Brook held a 16 to 12 rebounding edge heading into halftime, while also shooting a sizzling 61.5% from the floor.
The lousy first half certainly drew the ire of Smith afterwards. “Once again, our big guys are getting beat,” explained Smith. “Jordan (Latham), Franz (Rassman) and (Eric) Laster had 13 points and 6 rebounds. Their big guy (Warney) had 20 points and 11 rebounds. We’re just getting dominated inside again and we have to find a way to get a post presence.”
To Smith and his coaching staff’s credit, a switch to a 2-3 zone after halftime stymied the Stony Brook attack on the offensive end. With the zone purposely sagging in to prevent Warney and the bigs from touching the ball in the low post, the guards began to settle for long-range, low percentage shots. Predictably Stony Brook was unable to maintain their scorching shooting touch in the second half – they made four of eight from three in the first 20 minutes – fueling a Greyhound run.
Rather than settling for difficult mid-range jumpers like they did in the first half, the Greyhounds began to attack the rim. Cormier, who scored a game high 25 points, blew by his defenders and accumulated an impressive 12 free throw attempts – 11 made – in the second half alone. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough as a battled tested Stony Brook team persevered late with the road victory, their third win away from their friendly confines in four tries. Anthony Jackson played well for the Seawolves, scoring 19 points on only nine shot attempts. Puriefoy came off the bench to chip in with nine points and four assists.
Despite Loyola’s spirited comeback in the second half, Smith dwelled on the hole his team dug early on. “It’s effort. It’s just poor effort and that’s my fault, but that’s going to change. We just haven’t had effort to start the game, and we can’t continue to do this. If we continue to do this, it’s going to be a long season.”
In addition to the lack of effort, the interior play of Loyola continues to be a major issue. Coming into tonight’s contest, Loyola was the worst team in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and the 22nd worst in two-point field goal percentage. Also troubling: tonight’s defeat was the fourth time versus four Division I opponents this month that Loyola has failed to break the 1.00 point per possession barrier. Their 9-13 assist to turnover ratio certainly didn’t help.
Luckily for the Greyhounds, they won’t matchup with any Patriot League teams that boast a post presence of Warney’s caliber, with the lone exception of Holy Cross’ Dave Dudzinski. Warney, a virtual lock for America East first team honors at season’s end, is now averaging 16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game. The sophomore’s 126.4 offensive rating and 64.0% effective field goal percentage place him among the nation’s top 150 individuals in both categories.
Both clubs have a game scheduled this upcoming weekend before Christmas. Stony Brook will return home to take on a winless Cornell club, while Loyola gets to host St. Joseph’s.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride