Monday, December 21, 2015

Stony Brook Outworks Hofstra, Holds on to Win 71-68

Last season, Hofstra and Stony Brook renewed their rivalry after a few years of not playing each other.   The Pride won last year's "Battle of Long Island" on a last second shot by Dion Nesmith 66-65 at Mack Arena.   It stood to reason that this year's "Battle of Long Island" game would come down to the final seconds and sure enough it did.

This year's game was at Stony Brook's recently renovated Island Federal Credit Union Arena, which seats 4,000.   It was my first time in the recently renovated arena.  The last time I was at Stony Brook's arena was for Stony Brook's NIT appearance against Illinois back in March, 2010 (  The arena was then renovated and the Seawolves played their games at cozy Pritchard Gym until last season.
It's a very nice arena and it reminds me a lot of Davidson's Belk Arena, which seats a little more at 5100.

Yes, I'm back in NY for a couple of weeks for the holiday season visiting family and friends.  And of course, to catch some local area New York basketball.  This was the first of at least four games I plan to attend, all Hofstra games.  My friends Tieff and Mal joined me for yesterday festivities.  It was good to have the whole gang back together again as we got to our seats right before the game started.  Thanks to Tieff buying a mini plan, we had good seats in Row K Section 109.

The game started off very physical with Rokas Gustys battling Stony Brook's best player, senior Jameel Warney.  Considering all the work putting into the Freedom of Movement Rules by the NCAA, it was surprising to see all the physicality early on that was allowed by the referees.  After the Seawolves took a 6-5 lead on a Jameel Warney layup, one of his few first half baskets, the Pride responded with an 8-0 run capped by back to back threes by Brian Bernardi and took a 13-6 lead.  However, during this time, Hofstra star guard Juan'ya Green picked up two quick fouls. Stony Brook had their own foul trouble though with their star guard, senior Carson Puriefoy, who picked up two quick fouls of his own.

The Seawolves rallied, going on a 14-3 spurt over six minutes.  Two Ahmed Walker free throws ended the run and put Stony Brook back up 20-16. The Pride would eventually tie the game at twenty two all when Bernardi hit one of two free throws.   Later, Ameen Tanksley would hit two free throws to put Hofstra up two and Marcus Koon would bury a three pointer at the buzzer to give Hofstra a four point lead at the half, 31-27.

For the first twenty minutes, Hofstra had done a very good job holding Warney in check, often double teaming him when he got the ball.  Thanks to Gustys and some guard help, often by Bernardi, Warney had only six first half points.  The Pride were fortunate though to be leading because Stony Brook had several open back door lob plays on Hofstra's zone defense that were open, but the Seawolves made several bad passes, one that actually hit the rim, and could not capitalize on the opportunities.  Still it seemed Coach Joe Mihalich's defensive "boot camp" at practice the past week was paying dividends.

Apparently coach Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell made an adjustment at half time and at the start the second half, the Seawolves immediately worked the ball inside to Warney who then found Rayshawn McGrew for an open jumper to cut the deficit to two, 31-29.  McGrew followed that with a layup and the game was tied at 31.   The Pride would respond with baskets by Bernardi and Tanksley to go up four, 35-31.  Hofstra would maintain the four point lead 41-37 with fifteen minutes left in the game.

But it was around this time that the concerted effort to get the ball to Warney was starting to work. In about a three minute span, Warney scored three baskets, his last basket cut the deficit to three 44-41.   It was the start of an 11-2 run that gave Stony Brook a 50-46 lead that they would never relinquish.  They did this with excellent ball movement in the three and a half minute span where there was four assists and three consecutive three pointers.   The Seawolves successfully burned the Pride Zone, which often looked like a "squirrels on a highway" defense, with the Hofstra players scurrying to cover a man, only to leave a three point shooter open to bury the shot.

During the same time, Hofstra's offense struggled. They committed six turnovers in a five minute span. Green committed two of the turnovers and when he was successfully making passes, his teammates could not corral them.  In fact, it seemed every loose ball was grabbed by Stony Brook.  The Seawolves wanted the ball more and got it.

The Seawolves extended their lead to six, 63-57 with about 3:45 left in the game on another basket by McGrew.  The Pride would not give up however as Brian Bernardi became a one man wrecking crew, scoring the next seven Hofstra points.  His layup cut the deficit to 65-64 with 1:44 left.   But Walker, who was Robin to Warney's Batman in the second half, hit a huge layup and one to put Stony Brook up by four, 68-64 with 1:23 left.  

Twice Hofstra would cut the deficit to two, the latest being 70-68 on two Tanksley free throws.   Brian Sekunda had a chance to possibly put the game away with two free throw attempts with fifteen seconds left.  But Sekunda only hit one of two and Hofstra had a chance to tie.  But both Koon and Green missed three point attempts and Puriefoy grabbed the rebound of the Green miss and ran out the clock for the 71-68 Stony Brook win.

Warney was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the last twenty minutes of the game. He was also a force inside blocking shots, altering others and forced Hofstra often to kick the ball out instead of attacking the basket.  Warney had five blocks and added nine rebounds.  He was the only double digit scorer for the Seawolves, but Stony Brook had two players with nine points; Sekunda and Lucas Newhouse, who hit three 3 pointers ), two with eight points; McGrew and Walker, who also had eight assists, and Puriefoy added seven points.   The Seawolves were nine of nineteen from beyond the arc.  They are only shooting thirty five percent from three this season.

For Stony Brook, the balanced scoring and the bench points are a further indication of how deep Pikiell's team has been on the season.  The Seawolves average seventy eight points and ten players average eleven minutes or more per game.   That gives Stony Brook lots of options during a game and the depth will come in handy once America East conference play starts.  Whether Stony Brook can finally break through the wall and win the America East Tournament Championship is another matter.

Bernardi and Tanksley both had very solid nights for the Pride.  Tanksley led all scorers with twenty three points while Bernardi added twenty two points. They combined to shoot twelve of twenty four from the field including eight of thirteen from beyond the arc.  The problem was the rest of Hofstra shot eight of thirty one, including Green who was a dismal one of eight on the day.

Green has struggled in his last two games, shooting a combined five of twenty and only five assists combined in those two games.   Green is what makes the Pride go, especially on the passing end.  When Green has five or more assists, the Pride are 6-1.  When he has less than five, the Pride are 0-3.

After playing a solid first twenty minutes, the Pride defense regressed in the second half, giving up forty four points.  I guess it's back to boot camp for Hofstra. 

There were two other telling statistics.  The Pride were out scored in the paint 24-16 and their bench was out scored 19-3.  Nineteen to three.  

The last stat is very telling because the Pride only go eight deep most games.  In fact, the Pride only played two reserves against Stony Brook; Malik Nichols and Desure Buie. Nichols had the only points on a wide open three pointer.

So no Justin Wright Foreman, no Andre Walker and Jamall Robinson hasn't played all season, despite no reports of him being hurt (redshirt?).   No idea if Ibrahim Djambo, the senior transfer from Clemson, will be available in the spring semester.   

The Pride simply can't win playing only seven players.  The six foot ten Walker in his freshman season showed an ability to block shots.  Couldn't he have played just a few minutes against Warney to give him a different look?  

If Robinson is being redshirted, it's a mistake.  This is the Pride's best chance to win the CAA in several years and another small forward who can play solid minutes would be of help to Hofstra, especially from a defensive standpoint.  

The Pride need Green to be an assist machine and get back on track.  Hofstra could sorely use minutes from Walker, Wright Foreman and yes, Robinson come CAA conference play time.  They also need to have a consistent inside scoring presence as Gustys only had seven field goal attempts and only eight points yesterday.   When Gustys scores in double figures, the Pride are 5-0.  When not, 1-4.

Finally, the Pride need to scrap their zone, or badly fix it and show more effort on man to man defense. When the Pride score eighty or more points, they're 6-1.  When they score less than eighty points they're 0-3.  It's asking a lot to have their offense carry them every night and it can't, especially if Green has an off night or they're not willing to kick it inside to Gustys on a consistent basis to give them balance.

The time is now for the Pride to improve.  Otherwise, as I noted earlier in my preseason Hofstra preview, this could be 2006-07 again.  A wasted opportunity to win the CAA.   Time to step up Hofstra.

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