This Saturday, the Stony Brook Seawolves Men’s Basketball team headed out to Madison Square Garden, one of the most famous arenas in sports history, to face off against the La Salle Explorers. The game felt like a home game for the Seawolves, as they brought along a whole battalion of cheerleaders, the band and a sizeable student section. The La Salle Explorers gained national notoriety as one of the NCAA tournament’s Cinderellas, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen last year. Stony Brook faced a tough opponent as La Salle had all but one player return from the season where they played a role Stony Brook hopes to this March. However, the game showed evidence that Stony Brook would need a little improvement to reach that goal, as they were shut down offensively in a second half collapse for a 65-57 La Salle victory.
The Seawolves performed moderately well to kick the game off. The Explorers won the opening tip and scored a quick basket, then stuffed shot by Jameel Warney on the other end. However, the Seawolves bounced back, with a big defensive block by Eric McAlister and a sweet pass by Warney that lead to a McAlister dunk. The Seawolves held on to a 6-5 lead as the game passed the five minute mark. La Salle had opened up with heavy defensive pressure, forcing the Seawolves into a couple of opening turnovers. However, the Seawolves stayed strong on the defensive end to make up for their early offensive failures. The game remained a defensive battle as the half reached the ten minute mark, when the Seawolves lead 13-12. The Explorers continued to play tight defense on the Seawolves, which forced several turnovers but also allowed Stony Brook to create easy shots when their passes landed. In the second half of the period, the Seawolves began to pull away. They passed well and converted their open shots, while playing absolutely stifling defense, holding the Explorers to 26.7 percent shooting, and only 15.4 percent on threes. At the end of the half, the Seawolves lead 31-22, a solid lead against the favored Explorers.
The Seawolves shot 51.9 percent in the first half, headed by a strong effort by Warney, who dominated in all aspects of the game. He was one rebound away from leading the team in the three major categories. He put up 11 points with three rebounds and four assists, with a block to boot. He shot 5-6, even draining a couple mid-range jumpers to go with his normal post shots.. Ahmad Walker and McAlister also had great halves, with Walker leading the team with four rebounds to go with six points and McAlister igniting the crowd with a couple of highlight reel dunks on his way to six points. However, the team did have its flaws, as they racked up seven turnovers in the half.
The La Salle Explorers came out firing on all cylinders, with their offense absolutely on fire. They created open opportunities for themselves and converted their chances. This, when combined with some offensive sloppiness by the Seawolves, let the Explorers take the lead 46-41 by the midpoint of the second half. The game was tight, 52-50 La Salle, as it moved into crunch time, and the last five minutes would decide the winner. La Salle center Steve Zack hit one of two free throws to put La Salle up 55-50 with two minutes left, and they increased the lead to 57-50 with two points from Tyreek Duren. Warney got himself to the line with 1:17 left, but missed. Stony Brook began to intentionally foul, and La Salle converted one to put them up by eight. An airball of a three by Carson Puriefoy was the nail in the Seawolf coffin, as Duren drained both free throws to bring the lead up double digits. The final minutes ran out as Stony Brook played desperation ball, and the game ended with the score 65-57 La Salle.
The late game collapse was due to an offensive surge from La Salle and an offensive breakdown by the Seawolves. Jerrell Wright of La Salle surged in the second half, scoring 16 second half points for 21 on the day. Tyrone Garland scored seven in the second half for 12 total, and Zack grabbed seven rebounds and scored seven points in the second half to have a double double on the day. On the Stony Brook side, the team really failed to create shots for themselves and could not convert their opportunities. At the center of this issue was Warney, who, after his great first half, went one for nine from the field and finished with only four more points. Despite ending the day with a more than respectable stat line of eight rebounds and 15 points, both were below his season averages. The bigger issue however, was shooting 40 percent, nearly 30 percentage points lower than his average efficiency. The team did not really have any other player emerge as a consistent scorer, so with sub-par play of Warney, the whole offense came crashing down. It is becoming more and more apparent, with games like this one and the loss to St. Francis Brooklyn (where Warney sat out most of the first half due to foul trouble), that the team will face a big uphill battle when Warney does not play to his very high standards. The team needs a reliable second option to emerge, especially in big games, and both of the other two top scorers, Puriefoy and Anthony Jackson are capable but very streaky scorers as evidenced by their performance in this game, where the two combined for 11 points.
“We just got to play 40 minutes of good basketball and we played 20. We got a lead for the first half, then I guess a lack of effort just came back and bit us. But La Salle’s a good team and we have to play 40 minutes of good effort, great energy and Stony Brook basketball,” Warney stated after the game.”
“They did a great job on our guards. If you look at our guard numbers, I think we have three of the best guards in our league, and they all kind of struggled tonight… They pounded the ball inside and got to the free throw line,” Coach Steve Pikiell also stated.
The Seawolves have the week off for finals, after which they will play Sunday in New Hampshire for their first conference game of the season.