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Despite a hit on the bottom line, Stony Brook’s transition continues

December 16, 2014 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It wasn’t the kind of tale of two halves that anyone would want, much less one that came in having lost two in a row. Indeed, as conference play gets closer, a coach would rather his team get more consistent. And for Stony Brook, the way the roof caved in on them in the second half of Saturday’s loss at Providence was not good no matter how you try to slice it. Still, it’s part of a growing process this team has to go through.

“For 27 minutes, we were pretty good,” said head coach Steve Pikiell.

The Seawolves were within 49-44 after leading at times in the first half. It was after that point that Providence took over and won it convincingly, going on a 10-1 run as part of a bigger 16-3 run from which they never looked back in the 79-61 triumph.

Symbolic of how the latter part of the second half went was when the Seawolves had a fast break opportunity with over four minutes left. They came on the break with a numbers advantage, threw the ball right to a Providence defender, then at the other end fouled a Providence big man on a pass that looked a little too high for him to handle.

Stony Brook has now lost three games in a row for the first time since the 2010-11 season, when they had three such streaks. But that’s not the important part, even though winning games in non-conference play will help this team’s confidence. The Seawolves, for all their talent, are a team in a bit of transition. Jameel Warney, their junior big man who has basically dominated the interior of America East since he arrived, is the only starter on this team who started regularly last year. He’s still carrying this team at times, and on Saturday he gave Providence fits on the glass with 14 rebounds, though he struggled to finish. His supporting cast has to develop more.

The Seawolves have no seniors, so Pikiell has taken to referring to Warney and Carson Puriefoy, the team’s leaders as juniors, as their seniors. They have taken over the mantle of leadership for this team, and have them poised to not miss a beat.

“I’m just real pleased that Tre and Jameel have taken over this team,” said Pikiell. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, it’s not easy.”

There was a bright spot in all of this, which came in the form of Puriefoy. Previously a very good complementary player, he has become known for his shooting stroke but has struggled this season, especially from long range. While he has had a couple of good games, Saturday was perhaps his best of the season, as he scored 25 points on 9-18 shooting, including 5-8 from long range. That may help him get back to shooting like he did last year, although there is more to his job now. He has teammates who need to get accustomed to new roles not unlike he does.

“Now teams are playing me with more length, switching different matchups with me,” said the junior guard. “Once you have a couple of good games, the scouting report is out and everybody knows. I have to adjust my game, I have to get shots for my teammates when they’re more open because I’m drawing more attention to myself.

Puriefoy has a good feel for the game and is intelligent and thoughtful. He and Warney form a solid inside-outside combo, and with emerging Rayshawn McGrew, talented forward Roland Nyama and improving point guard Kameron Mitchell, they give the Seawolves a solid core. McGrew has two double-doubles on the season, while Nyama showed some of his talent on Saturday. Mitchell was a relative non-factor on Saturday, and right now, getting all of them to be a factor in the same game is a bit of a challenge. The goal, naturally, is for that to happen later in the season.

There is potentially good depth as well, and the Seawolves played 12 players on Saturday. Even those whose minutes were the most limited, like Ryan Burnett and Scott King, have given them something along the way in their careers, so there are a lot of options at Pikiell’s disposal.

In America East, the Seawolves have more talent returning than anyone else, and their newcomers are pretty good as well. The conference tournament format will probably work more to their advantage as well, as America East has gone to an all-campus sites format now. This means each game will be at the home of the higher seed and the quarterfinals and semifinals will not be on back-to-back days. In past years, the disappointments in the conference tournament has included losing to the host school as a higher seed, and while that is never a fun thing to have to do, the best team will still win those games. Now that doesn’t enter into the equation.

Stony Brook was a relatively easy pick to win the conference this season with the talent in the program. They may ultimately get there, to be sure. The journey there has already had some growing pains, and more may be in the offing before conference play begins. They will be well-tested and have ample opportunity to improve. Pikiell has built this team into a consistent contender, and this year should continue that, making the tale of two halves on Saturday a distant memory later in the season.

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