Stony Brook posted their best season in school history, going 25-8 and winning their first postseason game in school history over UMass in the NIT; however, head coach Steve Pikiell and company still have some unfinished business.
That unfinished business stems from the final seconds on March 9 in Albany. Mike Black drove past freshman Carson Puriefoy for a layup in the America East semifinal to give the Great Danes a 61-59 lead over Stony Brook with seconds left. Dave Coley’s desperation shot for the win fell short and Stony Brook’s chances of their first NCAA tournament bid were erased.
“I’m just proud of the program we’ve been able to build here,” Pikiell said. “We compete for league titles every year, we’ve done it on a consistent basis so I’m excited about that, but March has become more important every year.
“I understand that we’re a one bid league so you got to win. I always say you have to win in January, February and you have to win in March. It’s not just winning in March. You have to win all year long and then you have to win the league again so it’s a difficult thing to do sometimes.”
Despite the semifinal loss, the Seawolves got the automatic bid into the National Invitational Tournament for having won their conference regular season. That included a trip to Amherst to take on UMass, a team that challenged Stony Brook early with their size and quickness. However, the Seawolves’ backcourt of Coley and Anthony Jackson combined for 40 of Stony Brook’s 71 points as they dominated the second half holding on for a 71-58 win.
“I know we were capable of that, I saw it all year long,” Pikiell said. “There were games where we were very good against very good teams. I know our guys were excited about the opportunity to play at UMass, a very good team with the best point guard in the A-10. We were excited about that opportunity and we can defend.”
“We can run a little bit too. I wasn’t afraid of the pace because we can play at that pace too, but we kind of settled in a little bit too. I just didn’t like the way we were letting them score points giving them easy baskets early. We settled in with our defense and we continued to play at a pretty good pace offensively. I knew we were capable of those kind of things. You don’t always put those games together, but when our backcourt plays like that we could beat anybody and we have at times this year played real well with our backcourt.”
After a drive home late at night and a next day flight to Iowa City, the Seawolves battled the Hawkeyes toe to toe until Josh Oglesby made a three pointer in the final seconds of the first half to give Iowa a 37-34 lead into the break. The Hawkeyes wore down Stony Brook on the way to a 75-63 victory. The 12-point loss was just the second time this season the Seawolves lost by double-digits.
Stony Brook will graduate five seniors this season, a year after four senior starters signed professional contracts overseas. Seniors Ron Bracey, Ben Resner, Marcus Rouse, Leonard Hayes and America East Player of the Year Tommy Brenton exit the program. Brenton was named the winner of the 2013 Left Driesell Award as the National Defensive Player of the Year by CollegeInsider.com.
Pikiell said he feels good about the young core of the roster, as well as the players he redshirted this past season, contributing to the program next season and getting them over the hump into the NCAA tournament.
“We played three freshmen a lot of minutes this year,” Pikiell said. “How much are they going to improve. We got take that one more step. We’ve had great seasons and now we’ve got to have a great weekend. We’ve talked a lot about that.”
“I think our guys are excited. We redshirted three guys this year I love. I think they’re going to be three real good players and I think we signed a really good player early hopefully in another couple weeks we’ll have another NLI of a player that’s really good too. I just feel real good about our guys getting better and all the exciting things to come for our program.”
Stony Brook signed small forward Ronald Nyama out of the Holderness School during the early signing period and Pikiell said he looks forward to signing one more during the April signing period. The second commitment is likely to be Chris Braley who verballed to Stony Brook in February and tweeted that he would be joining the Seawolves.
“We’ve got three or four wings that we have coming in that I like a lot,” Pikiell said. “I think we have a chance to continue to get better. Jameel Warney has to get better and Tre Puriefoy our point guard has to get better. Scott King I think can be the best shooter at this level around. I think he’s got to get better, so I’m really excited about our young guys getting better and the program too.”
Pikiell said he believes he has his top 11 guys right now on the roster, but the battles that will happen through the offseason and in preseason for starting spots will be interesting to watch.
“It’s going to be real competitive,” Pikiell said. “I think that’s what’s made us good. We play 10, 11 guys. We have two guys at every position I feel really comfortable with so we’ve been able to weather injuries because of that.”
“A.J. (Anthony Jackson) sprained his ankle this year, he missed four games, and we moved Tre Puriefoy into the starting lineup and we won four out of five games. We’ve been able to be deep and have good practices and be real competitive at each position. I feel real comfortable with 10, 11 guys.We can go 12 deep already with our current roster.”
One difficulty in the future Pikiell is starting to face is teams who are not willing to play his team either on the road or at home at Prichard Gym.
“It’s tough to get people to call us back,” Pikiell said. “When I first got the job people would schedule us and they would call me right back. Right now it’s tough to get games, it really is, it’s tough to get people to come here especially to Long Island.
“It’s a new challenge. When you’re not very good you have challenges and when you develop a pretty good program I think you have challenges there too so that certainly is a challenge that we have now.”
With that success comes other benefits. Stony Brook’s $21 million dollar new arena is ahead of schedule Pikiell said. He hopes to be in there before the scheduled opening in the fall of 2014. The program’s success also has the school being talked about as a potential new member of the Colonial Athletic Association for all sports. The football program joins the CAA this fall, with all other sports in the America East.
“I think the more success we have in basketball, football, lacrosse and all those our name is going to continue to get mentioned and that’s probably a good thing,” Pikiell said. “That means we’re doing some good stuff, but I know we’re very happy in [the America East]. I know we’re really happy our school’s all match up in our league academics and it’s a really good league.”
Ryan Restivo covers Stony Brook, Hofstra and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo.