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Two-game trip to North Carolina tips-off in Elon for Stony Brook men’s basketball

Center Chris Maidoh spins inside of Northeastern center Collin Metcalf on Saturday, Feb. 3. Maidoh’s post presence will be key for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team in its game tomorrow at Elon. MACKENZIE YADDAW/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook’s men basketball team will look to climb over .500 in Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) play for the first time this season to open its weekend stay in North Carolina.

The Seawolves (12-11, 5-5 CAA) will take on the Elon Phoenix (10-13, 3-7 CAA) on Thursday night. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Last year, the two sides met up once, with Elon handing Stony Brook an embarrassing 69-55 defeat at Island Federal Arena.

Both teams have improved a lot this year, but perhaps the biggest evolution has been the Phoenix’s offense. The Seawolves’ hot defense will have to stop the CAA’s third-ranked scoring offense (76.1 points per game). Elon is in the conference’s top five in all three shooting categories and owns a .459/.365/.724 shooting line as a team.

Small forward Max Mackinnon is the engine of the Phoenix’s excellent offense, leading it with 12.2 points per game on a .460/.396/.676 triple slash. Shooting guard T.K. Simpkins is averaging 11.5 points per game on 40% shooting from the field, followed by point guard Rob Higgins’ 11.3 points on 47.1%. Center Sam Sherry is on the precipice of a double-digit scoring average, as he has posted 9.8 points per game on a .583 field goal percentage.

Power forward Nick Dorn has been a nice addition to Elon’s starting lineup, as he is averaging 9.6 points per game on a .413/.374/.800 shooting line in his freshman season. Shooting guard Zac Ervin has been a top option off the bench for most of the season with a 7.6 points per contest average on a .426/.420/.808 triple slash.

Dorn, Ervin and Mackinnon are the team’s top three floor-spacers. Dorn leads the squad with 107 three-point attempts, trailed by Ervin’s 100 and Mackinnon’s 96. Freshman point guard L.A. Pratt is another good three-point shooter, as he has made 35.1% of his 74 tries from deep. Higgins is just a tick behind Pratt on the team’s leaderboard with a .350 three-point percentage on 60 shots from behind the arc.

The Phoenix distribute the ball at a high level, with their 13.6 assists per game ranking fourth in the CAA. The team has four players ranked in the league’s top 25 in assists per game.

Higgins leads the team with 3.0 assists per game, landing just beneath the top 10. Simpkins is second on the team with 2.7 assists per game and sits just percentage points ahead of MacKinnon, who rounds up to the same figure. Off the bench, Pratt averages 2.2 assists per game and leads the squad with a 2.1 assist to turnover ratio.

Other players that Stony Brook has to watch out for are Elon power forwards Deandre Smart and Isaac Harrell.

Smart is just 6-foot-6, which is small for a typical four man, but his physicality and finishing abilities make up for his stature when in the paint. He owns a .592 field goal percentage and a .739 free throw percentage. Harell is a more traditional 6-foot-8 and is shooting 45.7% from the field this season.

The three-point line has been the Seawolves’ Achilles’ heel on defense. Opponents have shot 35.6% from beyond the arc against Stony Brook, which is the second-worst rate in the CAA.

Other than those struggles guarding the three-ball, the Seawolves have defended relatively well. They have ascended to sixth in the CAA in scoring defense, allowing 71.7 points per game. They have been lights out at contesting shots and getting stops, as their .427 field goal percentage against is the fifth-best in the conference.

Small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore and point guard Dean Noll will have the responsibility of guarding the Phoenix’s best shooters. Noll makes a lot of plays on the ball, as his 1.8 steals per game lead the CAA. Stephenson-Moore is having a career year as a pickpocket, averaging 1.0 steals per contest.

Small forward Sabry Phillip is Stony Brook’s best transition defender and has been a big part of its defensive turnaround. He has averaged 11.4 minutes per game since returning to the lineup on Jan. 6 and has helped limit opposing fast breaks when out on the court.

The duo of centers Chris Maidoh and Keenan Fitzmorris have been integral to the Seawolves’ defensive performance. Maidoh is the team’s best defender and rounds up to 1.0 steals per game while also averaging just under a block per contest, as well. Teams struggle to score when the 6-foot-10 Maidoh is roaming the paint, as his 99.0 defensive rating leads the squad. The 7-foot Fitzmorris is 10th in the CAA with 24 blocks this year.

It is in Stony Brook’s best interest that the Phoenix get as few second chances as possible. Behind power forward Andre Snoddy’s seven rebounds per game — which ranks 10th in the CAA — the Seawolves are the fifth-best rebounding team in the conference. Snoddy ranks 10th in the league’s leaderboard. Maidoh has grabbed exactly six boards per contest, while Fitzmorris is contributing another 4.2.

Those numbers present danger for Elon, who has the fifth-fewest rebounds per game (34.5) in the CAA, as it is not a very big team. Sherry — the tallest regular in the Phoenix’s rotation — stands at 6-foot-10 and co-leads them with 4.7 rebounds per game alongside the 6-foot-5 Mackinnon. The 6-foot-4 Simpkins is third on the team with 4.3 boards per contest. Center Kendall Campbell — a 6-foot-8 backup who averages 12.0 minutes per game — is a physical presence off the bench that has grabbed 3.4 rebounds per game.

Another thing to look out for is the second chances that Fitzmorris will generate. His 50 offensive rebounds place him in the CAA’s top 10. Getting to face one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference may lead to him having a field day on the offensive glass.

If Fitzmorris can do so, it would give Stony Brook’s offense more opportunities to exploit Elon’s substandard defense. The Seawolves own the fifth-worst scoring offense in the CAA with 71.1 points per game. Stephenson-Moore has led them all year and is ninth in the conference with 14.6 points per game on a .435/.403/.794 shooting line.

Behind him, Stony Brook boasts three more double-digit scorers. Point guard Aaron Clarke is surging at the right time and is up to 13.2 points per game on a .390/.339/.791 triple slash while dishing out two assists per game. FItzmorris is coming off a tough game but is still averaging 10.2 points per game while shooting 50.6% from the field and 79.1% from the free-throw line.

Rounding out the double-figure scorers is Noll, whose hot streak has pushed him to 10.2 points per game. He has become a viable threat from downtown and a reliable shooter from the charity stripe, knocking down 33.3% of his 90 three-pointers and 76.9% of his 39 free throws. He is also tied for second on the team with two assists per game, trailing only shooting guard Jared Frey.

Other than those four, the Seawolves have other options. Maidoh’s post moves have proven to be effective, as he owns a .523 field goal percentage and averages 7.4 points per game. Frey is a dangerous three-point shooter but has cooled down significantly in conference play, shooting 39.5% from deep on the season but just 31.6% in CAA games.

Between Stephenson-Moore, Frey, Clarke and Noll’s efficiency from deep, Stony Brook is the sixth-best three-point shooting team in the conference at 34.2%. The Phoenix have surrendered a .339 three-point percentage to opponents, which ranks eighth in the CAA.

However, Elon’s defense is not good. In fact, its three-point defense might be considered its strength. The Phoenix allow 76.3 points per game — the third-most in the CAA. They also have the third-worst opponent’s field goal defense (.457).

Simpkins has had the most active hands on their defense, placing himself in the conference’s top five with 1.6 steals per game. Higgins is second on Elon’s leaderboard with 1.0 steals per game. Off the bench, Pratt has been aggressive defensively and has ripped away 21 steals in 23 games. At the rim, Sherry has blocked 25 shots, placing him sixth in the CAA, while Campbell’s 16 blocks give him an average of 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes.

If the Seawolves can exploit the Phoenix’s lack of size and lousy defense, then they may be able to avenge last year’s devastating loss and return the favor.

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