Outlook: Stony Brook was a surprise contender in America East in Jeff Boals’ first season at the helm, but will the Seawolves have enough offense to compete in his second time around?
Last year: 18-14 (12-4 America East), CBI First Round
Who’s in: Jaron Cornish (G); Corry Long (G); Jordan McKenzie (G); Anthony Ochefu (F); Elijah Olaniyi (F)
Who’s out: Lucas Woodhouse (G); Roland Nyama (F); Alonzo Campbell (F/C); Kameron Mitchell (G)
Key non-conference games: Bucknell (11-26-2017); @LIU Brooklyn (12-4-2017); Hofstra (12-12-2017)
Expectations weren’t too high when Jeff Boals took over the Stony Brook head coaching job. Yes, the Seawolves were coming off of a 26-win season and their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, but Steve Pikiell had departed for Rutgers and the core of the team—including all-time great Jameel Warney—graduated. When Boals arrived from Ohio State he was tasked with building a new identity.
He succeeded. Boals slowed games down to a crawl, convinced the remaining players to play extremely stingy defense in conference play, and rode the talent of senior guard Lucas Woodhouse to a 12-4 conference record and a No. 2 seed in the America East playoffs.
Now Boals has to do it again. Woodhouse graduated and Roland Nyama left a year early to pursue professional opportunities in Europe. But the cupboard certainly isn’t bare.
For one, Boals’ initial recruiting class includes five newcomers. They’ll be given an opportunity to contribute right away. Even though the Seawolves averaged just 65.8 possessions per game last season, 280th in Division I, Boals wants to play a deep rotation.
They’ll be anchored by a few key players. Sophomore Akwasi Yeboah came into his own during the final month of the 2016-17 season. He averaged 15 ppg and 8.3 rpg during the final six games of the season. He then spent the offseason playing for Great Britain’s U20 National Team. In addition, Boals said that three returnees Junior Saintel, Tyrell Sturdivant, and UC Iragbu have done a really good job of working on their game since the season ended in March. All three will have key roles to play this season, with Iragbu potentially getting the first shot of replacing Woodhouse at the point guard position.
No matter who is on the court, Boals is going to demand a strong defensive mentality. The Seawolves forced turnovers on almost one-fifth of their defensive possessions in America East play last season and were excellent defending around the rim. It was a group concept, born from Boals’ days working under Thad Matta, and the height and talent still on the roster should allow Boals to effectively run that concept once again.
“We spent a lot of time in the summer working on defense,” Boals said. “We’re going to hang our hat on that. And hopefully use our length and athleticism to help us out.”
The Seawolves will need that help during an extremely difficult non-conference schedule that opens hosting Maryland at the Nassau Coliseum and includes games at Connecticut, Michigan State, Providence and Rutgers. (Along with trips into Manhattan and Brooklyn to take on Columbia and LIU.)
“When you play teams that we’re playing your margin for era is zero,” Boals said. “You almost have to play a perfect game.”
Boals though hopes to take on more of those tough games in the future. He’d like to play St. John’s in Madison Square Garden someday. (An opportunity SBU hasn’t had in more than eight years.)
This season though those challenges should prepare the Seawolves for America East play, which opens against Maine on Jan. 3.