It was de ja vu all over again for Stony Brook fans Monday night, many of whom were in approximately the same seat (albeit a much nicer one since Stony Brook Arena has been refurbished and rebranded as Island Federal Credit Union Arena) three years ago as the Seawolves’ shooting aim inexplicably disappeared at the worst possible time, shooting just 4-19 from behind the arc and 17-58 from the field as Vermont came in and took the America East title, 51-43.
Of course, the Stony Brook heartbreak which has been well documented in these parts. There was the controversial loss at Albany two years ago, in which the Seawolves were the higher seed, but the America East Tournament was at SEFCU Arena. Stony Brook was 17-51 from the field that day. Then, of course, last year, across the hall in Pritchard Gym, it was the Great Danes again who played party pooper. Stony Brook shot a little better last March (22-56), but was only 2-14 from three-point range.
And so, while a 64-47 home loss to Albany – again – who was without its best player was not ideal, and exposed some problems for Stony Brook (12-8, 3-2) going forward, one guy who wasn’t going to get too worked up over a dreadful shooting performance in January (19-59) was Steve Pikiell, who – unlike his current young team – has been around enough to have some perspective.
No one on the current roster is left from that Vermont game, and only Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy played any part in the Albany America East loss two seasons ago. In fact, other than those two, only Rayshaun McGrew played a significant role in the America East final last season (18 minutes, 10 points).
As Albany sunk deeper and deeper into a 2-3 zone, Stony Brook – just as they did in those losses in March past – keep firing, and kept missing the target.
“I’ll watch the tape again, but I thought we got good looks and you hate to tell the guys they can’t shoot,” Pikiell said. “That’s what they do. Bryan Sekunda, I’ll put him in any shooting contest in any league. Roland’s (Nyama, who went 0-9 from the field) been shooting the ball as well as anybody in he conference. Tre (Carson Puriefoy, who was 1-9) is very capable, he’s a 43% three-point shooter for his career, so I like them taking open shots. You’re going to have games like this and unfortunately we had too many guys have that game tonight.”
Albany (10-7, 5-0) entered as a poor defensive team, 275th in defensive efficiency, and one number that stuck out was 348th, fourth-worst in the nation in 3-point defense (41.1%). Some (John Templon, who runs this site, being one of them) think that it is largely luck, related to defensive free-throw %, which means that Albany, which saw Holy Cross shoot 13-19, Saint Francis U. 11-20, and Niagara 11-22 this season against them from behind the arc (all in losses). So perhaps Albany was due (they’re still 338th, so maybe they’ll be due for a little while longer).
It was the Great Danes’ zone that mystified Stony Brook Monday, and the always candid Will Brown admitted afterward that he felt a little dirty afterward because playing zone is not exactly his favorite thing in the world to do.
“We did something tonight that we don’t do often, we played a lot of zone,” Brown said. “I can’t stand zone defense. I don’t hide that fact. I do not like it. If it was up to me, we’d play man-to-man every possession the entire game. But as stubborn of a coach as I am, I also have to put our guys in the best situation to be successful and I thought we could control tempo and it would be harder to get Warney the ball, and our guys executed the game plan to a T.”
To say the loss in meaningless for Stony Brook would be incorrect as well, they now stand two games behind league favorites Albany and Vermont (and a game behind Hartford, as Pikiell was quick to point out when a reporter said they were in third) and therefore stand to have to have to go on the road in the America East Playoffs if they want to grab their elusive first NCAA tournament berth.
While talented, they are very inexperienced, are only 286th nationally in eFG% (45.6), and not much better in three-point % (31.1, 263rd), meaning they may see more and more teams slow them down and pack it in around Warney (who had 16 pts, 8 rebs Monday but was largely made invisible in the second half) as the season progresses.
“We’ve been doing a good job, but today it was a team effort, nobody came to play,” Warney said. “But at the end of the day, it’s another loss, but we’ll be ready to bounce back.”
To intimate that there was a large part of luck involved in Albany’s victory Monday, even without Hooley (and thoughts and prayers with the Hooley family at this difficult time, as Ryan Restivo wrote a great story about here), also does them a tremendous disservice. The Great Danes have now won seven of eight and have more than proven over the last month that they are very capable of winning their third straight America East title (they’ve even dumped the yellow shorts to go with the purple jersey tops this season as well).
The Aussie connection of Hooley and Sam Rowley are the only two starters returning, but junior point guard Evan Singletary had been quite the find for Brown, scoring 21 more points on Monday and controlling play when he needed to. He doesn’t rack up assists like a true point, but does take care of the ball and is making three-pointers at a 42% clip this season and is nearly automatic at the free throw line (49-55, although he missed two Monday).
“I’m a big Carson Puriefoy fan, but I think Evan is as good as any point guard in this league,” Brown said. “I’ll let the fans of this league judge how good he is. He’s just continuing to get better and better, and I’m proud of him, a typical Baltimore point guard.”
Albany also got 11 points out of Ray Sanders and 10 from Dallas Ennema, who stepped into the starting lineup for Hooley. Mike Rowley played 13 minutes despite accompanying Hooley to Los Angeles and back on Saturday/Sunday after he decided to be with his ailing mother in Australia.
And so, as we sit here in mid-January, it’s Albany (along with Vermont) that looks like the team to beat in America East. But in the life of the one-bid conferences in Division I basketball, glory is not won in January.
A lesson you don’t have to remind Stony Brook of too many times.