Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Elite Program Grows in Stony Brook (Recap of Cornell v. Stony Brook)

When we planned our holiday vacation trip up to New York to visit family and friends, we had split the trip into two days, as we always do when we drive from Columbia to New York and vice versa.  Since we could only leave late Saturday afternoon, we made our halfway point Richmond.   That meant that the rest of the trip on Sunday, if all went well, would be six hours.  We left Richmond at 8:00 A.M. because I had plans that involved seeing one of my favorite college basketball teams Sunday evening.   

But if anyone knows I-95, the New Jersey Turnpike or Belt Parkway well, what should be a six hour trip often turns out to be a longer excursion due to delays.  We briefly got caught up around Landover, Maryland due to rubbernecking from an accident going the opposite direction as well as a nasty rainstorm.  Then on the Jersey Turnpike, a much longer delay due to the same thing, rubbernecking from an accident in the opposite direction.   Then at the Belt Parkway, the longest delay due to nothing more than traffic.  Typical for the Belt.  In total, an hour and 15 minutes of delays.

When I got to my wife's parents in Levittown at about 4:15 yesterday, I was very frustrated, figuring that it would take me 45 minutes to get to Stony Brook and that I wouldn't make the 5:00 P.M. start of Cornell vs. Stony Brook.

Thankfully, there was one thing wrong in this scenario that actually worked in my favor.  The Cornell - Stony Brook game actually started at 6:00 P.M.   So once I happily realized that fact, I made the drive to Stony Brook in 45 minutes.  I was very grateful to see one of the best mid major college basketball programs in the country, a program I covered many times in the recent years before I moved to South Carolina.

Steve Pikiell was named head coach of Stony Brook in 2005.  In his first three seasons, the Seawolves combined record was 20-67.   Wisely, the Stony Brook administration stuck with Pikiell and they were rewarded with a 16-14 record in the 2008-09 season.  Then in 2009-10, the Seawolves went 22-10, won the America East Regular season championship and received their first ever NIT bid.   In 2010-11, though Stony Brook slipped to 15-17, they made the America East Tournament Championship and came within a whisker of knocking off Boston University.  In each of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Stony Brook again won the regular season America East Championship and received a NIT bid.   In the two previous seasons, the Seawolves are a combined 47-18 as well as 28-4 in regular season America East play.

As I noted in a previous post, it was good to be back seeing New York basketball in a small gym/arena.  As I entered the Stony Brook Athletic Center, the basketball gods were kind to me.    Seeing I needed a ticket, a season ticket holder had an extra ticket and offered it to me for $10, $4 less than the normal cost.  I gladly obliged and then when I found my seat, it was basically center court in a gym that was nicely packed considering it was the weekend before Christmas.

Sunday, the Seawolves hosted the Big Red of Cornell.   Considering the season, Pritchard Gym seemed very festive as it was a sea of red.   Stony Brook was looking for its ninth win of the season.  Meanwhile, Cornell, which went to three straight NCAA Tournaments and a Sweet 16 in the 2009-10 season under former coach Steve Donahue, has fallen on hard times.  The Big Red have not had a winning season since that magical 2009-10 season and came into yesterday's game winless at 0-10 on the season.

The Seawolves jumped out quickly to an 8-0 lead. It was due in large part to the best big man in local tri state college basketball, Jameel Warney.   A fan sitting next to me said it best "Warney is all over the place".  Early on, he was, whether it was scoring underneath, grabbing a rebound or boxing out an opponent on a loose ball.    The Seawolves extended it to a 15-3 lead on a Carson Puriefoy steal and layup. 

But the Big Red would respond with a 15-3 run of their own to tie the game at eighteen on a Dominick Scelfo jumper.  Cornell did this by moving the ball around really well on offense.   At that point, the Big Red didn't seem like a winless team to me.  

Stony Brook would answer with a 20-6 spurt to end the half.  The Seawolves started the run by working the ball into Warney for an easy layup.  Then Dave Coley and Eric McAlister each had a three pointer.  Finally, Stony Brook was a perfect eight for eight from the free throw line during that seven minute stretch.   Still, Coach Pikiell was not pleased to give up an easy layup right at the end of the half.   The Seawolves went into halftime up 38-24.

At halftime, I met up with Carson Puriefoy's dad, Carson Puriefoy Sr, a star guard in his own right at Bucknell.  I've got to known him through my blog and he's just a terrific person.   Carson was kind enough to ask the new Interim Athletic Director of Stony Brook, Donna Woodruff to give us a tour of the new Stony Brook Arena, which is located right across from Pritchard Gym in the Athletic Center.    She was very gracious, giving us her time to get the door unlocked and gave us a tour of the new facility.  

The arena, which will open in Fall 2014, simply looks fantastic.   It has two large video screens and two large scoreboards, one of each on each end of the court.  There is a lot of individual seating, luxury box suites and what will be a huge concessions stand.   From where we were standing, there is a perfect sightline for a camera shot of the arena floor.  It's simply going to be a first class arena.

After the tour, I got back to my seat a few minutes into the second half.  As I sat down, I saw that the Seawolves had extended their lead to sixteen, 43-27 with sixteen minutes left in the game.  The lead would grown even further the next few minutes, as Puriefoy would bury a three to give Stony Brook a 48-27 lead.  

The Big Red would cut lead down to sixteen, 48-32 with fifteen minutes left.  But Puriefoy would find Warney with a really nice pass for a layup and one, his first of two three point plays in a 21-7 run over eight minutes that put the game away for the Seawolves.  A McAlister three pointer gave Stony Brook a 69-39 lead with a little under eight minutes left. 

During this run, the Seawolves showed good ball movement and balanced scoring on offense, while showing their trademark defense and rebounding.   Having watched enough college basketball over the years, I can honestly say that I have not seen a team with better help defense than Stony Brook under Pikiell.   The Seawolves just converge on the ball.  Also, they box out very well on rebounding.  The Seawolves outrebounded Cornell yesterday 47-32.

Unlike a FDU team that I saw on this same court over two years ago,  Cornell did not give up.  The Big Red went on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to nineteen, 73-54 with two plus minutes left in the game.  I assure you Big Red fans, Cornell will not go winless this season.

It was at this time that Pikiell emptied his bench.  Seldom used Kameron Mitchell ended the scoring with a pretty up and under bank shot to give Stony Brook a 76-54 win.  

The Seawolves got balanced scoring as four of their players scored in double figures.  Coley, who scored his 1000th career point during the game, led all scorers with fifteen points.  Warney added fourteen points and seven rebounds, Puriefoy added thirteen points off the bench and Ahmad Walker added twelve points.  Had it not been for missing both free throws at the line late in the game, McAlister would have had a double double as well.  He finished with nine points and eleven rebounds.  Devin Cherry and Daryl Smith led Cornell with eleven points each.

As I left Pritchard Gym, I came away impressed with Stony Brook.  But it was not just the basketball team, it was the entire athletics program.   Over the past few years under Jim Fiore and now Donna Woodruff, Stony Brook has had a football team become a power in the FCS, a baseball team that made the College World Series, a basketball team that has made the NIT in three of the last four seasons, a new weight room and soon a new basketball arena.   

When I told my friend and fellow Little League coach in Columbia Chris Moseley that I was going to see Stony Brook play Sunday, he asked me how the basketball team compared to the baseball team.   The Seawolves Athletic Program is that well known now.   If Pikiell can lead the Seawolves to their first ever NCAA berth, the program will get even more recognition. 

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