By David Vertsberger and Zach Rowe
In need of a convincing victory over one of the conference’s elite, Stony Brook exhibited its defensive moxie in a 72-66 home win on Wednesday night over Hartford. Throughout the night, the Seawolves defense kept the game within reach despite their opposition leading nearly wire-to-wire.
The Seawolves lost their 2-0 lead at the 17-minute mark and would not retake it until just seven minutes remained in the contest. SBU made just three of its first 15 shots, falling behind 13-6 in the early going.
“In the first half we were lackadaisical. We didn’t have any energy in the first half, the first 17 minutes,” Jameel Warney, who finished with 13 points on 6-13 shooting, said following the win. “We didn’t know what they were going to throw at us in the first half. Every time they threw the ball to me in the high post to me, multiple people crashed down.”
Stony Brook was stifled by the Hawks’ uber-physical man defense and their scheme against the high-low. Warney’s first low-post touch came six minutes in, with Hartford’s defense collapsing on him whenever he came near the paint.
The Seawolves’ offense eventually got off the ground with a five-point spurt from freshman Deshaun Thrower, but Hartford would clamp down once again and jump out to a 23-14 lead.
Junior Carson Puriefoy could not find the bottom of the net, Stony Brook’s role players were unable to create opportunities, and Warney hardly got touches he could work with.
On the bright side, SBU’s defense shined throughout. Despite shooting just 38 percent from the field in the first half, Stony Brook allowed only two fast break points from the Hawks.
“They’re dangerous in transition because they make threes. We wanted to do a good job, I thought we had a good scout on them,” Head Coach Steve Pikiell said. “I thought our defense was good the whole night.”
It was this defense that never allowed Hartford to extend its lead past nine points. The Hawks leading scorer on the season, Mark Nwakamma, scored just 10 points on 4-12 shooting thanks to Warney’s pestering.
“Defense is obviously the main focus here. I had a bad offensive night but I feel like I can help the team in other ways,” Warney said. Stony Brook pulled within three points come halftime, when redshirt freshman Roland Nyama took over.
Nyama had just three points in the first half, but completely flipped the script in the final 20 minutes. “I was mostly looking at how they were playing me,” Nyama said. “First look is always to feed it to Jameel since that’s our best option. They weren’t looking for me so I just capitalized on them not really playing me and found angles, found the open lanes.”
Nyama finished with 22 points on 5-8 shooting from the field and 3-5 shooting from distance, sparking the Seawolves on both ends. With Hartford’s defensive focus on Warney, Nyama looked to create off the dribble aggressively, and it paid major dividends.
“It was great to see [Nyama] get loose, get energy plays, offensive rebounds, just playing with emotion,” Warney said.
“The way they were playing [Nyama,] he made that adjustment. He went by people, got to the foul line, they fouled him, got up in the lane,” Pikiell added. “If teams are gonna hug you on the perimeter like that, then you gotta make plays. He made plays, and as he made more he got more and more comfortable.”
Nyama’s play sparked a 15-0 SBU run midway through the second half, taking the Seawolves from an eight-point deficit to a seven-point advantage.
The run allowed Stony Brook to lean on its defense and timely buckets to coast to the win. Although Puriefoy struggled from the field, his defense in the final minutes was impeccable and he went 8-9 from the charity stripe.
“I love [Puriefoy’s] defense and that’s what we go on now. When he plays great defense he really helps us, and their guards are good.” Pikiell said. “I want to keep him focused on that end of the floor and when he’s locked in on that end of the floor it helps his offense too.”
With this 72-66 win, Stony Brook sealed its first win over one of the better America East teams this season, but on Saturday the Seawolves suffered one of their toughest losses.
Facing off against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, the Seawolves looked thoroughly outclassed against their opponent, falling 63-48. The team shot just 31 percent from the field and failed to show its usual domination on the glass as the team fell to 6-3 in conference play and 15-9 on the season.
The Wildcats started out quickly, taking an early lead thanks to strong play from forward Taylor Leissner. Stony Brook lacked the offensive punch the Wildcats showed, and the UNH lead grew throughout the first half, which ended 29-25 thanks to a late run from the Seawolves.
However, the second half did not show the Seawolves making any significant adjustments to retake the lead. Right out of the gate, two three pointers from UNH’s Matt Miller put the Seawolves down by eleven.
From there, the game quickly got out of hand. The Seawolves never came close to threatening again, and the game came to a merciful end with the score 63-48. Warney’s play was the lone bright spot for Stony Brook that day. He put up a dominating display in the paint, putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds for his nation-leading 15th double-double.
However, his surrounding players failed to give him the necessary support. The normally solid Rayshaun McGrew had a weaker day, and junior guard Pureifoy struggled mightily on the offensive end, shooting only 2-10 with four turnovers.
Starters Ryan Burnett and Nyama failed to register a field goal on the day as well.
Sophomore guard Kameron Mitchell did flash much improved ball handling, leading the team with four assists. Facing an uphill battle for conference tournament seeding, the Seawolves will now host Vermont next Saturday.