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Hoopla: Men’s Basketball has sights set on NCAA tournament

Stony Brook was picked to finish second in the preseason poll for the upcoming year. Photo by Nina Lin
Stony Brook was picked to finish second in the preseason poll for the upcoming year. Photo by Nina Lin

The Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team is coming off arguably the best season in the program’s history. They won 25 games, the most since 1977, and won their very first NIT matchup, defeating Massachusetts in the first round of the tournament.

The team featured the America East Conference Player of the Year and the National Defensive Player of the Year Tommy Brenton. It also featured the America East Rookie of the Year Jameel Warney.

            But, the one thing the head coach Steve Pikiell’s squad once again failed to achieve was winning the America East Conference Title and grabbing an NCAA tournament bid.

           Stony Brook came into the America East Tournament last spring as the No. 1 seed, after posting a 14-2 conference record. The Seawolves cruised to victory in the first round of the tournament against Binghamton, but fell to No. 4 seed Albany in the semifinals in rather heartbreaking fashion.

           Stony Brook was able to overcome a 10-point deficit with 3:47 remaining to tie the game at 59. But, with 2.4 seconds remaining, Albany’s Mike Black drove past SBU’s freshman guard Carson Puriefoy for a layup with what would be the game-winning basket.

           “It was very tough, because the seniors that helped build the program, it was their last chance to make it to NCAA’s,” Puriefoy said.

           But, despite all the frustration over the past few years, the Seawolves still come into training camp optimistic.

           “I was disappointed at the end, because you got to win every game at the end,” head coach Pikiell said. “But, when you think about what we’ve accomplished in a short period of time, we feel really good about that.”

           Last season Stony Brook had an offense that lead the America East Conference with 68.0 points per game and a defense that ranked 13th in the nation in points allowed per game, only giving up 57.5.

         “I think we’re really good,” senior guard Anthony Jackson said. “When we tie it together, and play as a team, I think we’re great.”

 But, the Seawolves will have the challenge of replacing the production of one of the program’s greatest players, Tommy Brenton, who signed a pro contract in Japan over the summer.

“He was one of the most unique players in college basketball,” coach Pikiell said. “To win the player of the year title only averaging eight points a game never happens.”

Part of what made Brenton so valuable was the fact that he contributed in almost all facets of the game for Stony Brook. Last season he averaged 8.4 points per game, 8.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals.

            “It’s hard to replace Tommy Brenton,” coach Pikiell said. “We’re gonna have to do it by committee. But, we have good players.”

            Brenton’s absence leaves a big void in the starting lineup. But, there is still a lot to like about the Seawolves’ potential starters this season.

           Perhaps the team’s biggest strength may be their starting backcourt. Senior guards Anthony Jackson and Dave Coley both averaged over 11 points per game last year, and will also both be looked to for leadership on a team that got a lot younger over the offseason.

           Upfront Stony Brook features two players that the program is relying on to take their games to the next level, Warney and senior forward Eric McAlister.

Warney was named to this year’s America East all-preseason team, and is looking to build upon an outstanding rookie campaign. Last year he lead the team in points, field goal percentage and blocks.

“Jameel Warney obviously gets me very excited,” coach Pikiell said. “He’s one of the best young post players in the conference.”

As for McAlister, he will have an increased role on the team this year. Last season he started 23 games, finished third on the team in offensive boards and second on the team in field goal percentage (.509).

          “Playing behind the shadows of Tommy Brenton the last few years, I think Eric’s gonna prove to people what a great player he is,” coach Pikiell said.

          As for the fifth starting spot, it could go to redshirt freshman Ahmad Walker. Coach Pikiell is extremely excited about the 6-foot-4-inch 185-pound guard, describing him as the most athletic player the program has ever had.

         Puriefoy is also a candidate to be in the starting lineup, and gives coach Pikiell an option to go smaller and faster with his starting five.

         There is less certainty about who will get major minutes off the bench. Some of last year’s key reserves, such as Marcus Rouse, Leonard Hayes and Ron Bracey have all moved on, and leave a large void in the rotation.

         There are many newcomers who could be given key minutes off the bench this season. Overall there are six players preparing for their first year with the team.

          Redshirt freshman Kameron Mitchell, freshman Chris Braley and redshirt freshman Ryan Burnett are talented shooters who could potentially help replace the sharp-shooting Rouse.

          Roland Nyama, a first year player from Frankfurt, Germany is also expected to contend for minutes off the bench. During his senior year at Holderness High School, he averaged 20.3 points per game, along with 6.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists.

          “I’m excited about all of (the newcomers),” coach Pikiell said. “All of them have a chance to help us or impact us in one way or another.”

         “We can go far into the NCAA tournament,” Puriefoy said. “We have so many pieces. Even though we’re young we can bring it together. And if we do that in time, we’re gonna be scary, and we’re gonna be good.”

         There is plenty of potential on Stony Brook’s roster, but if they are to finally take the next step to the NCAA tournament, the Seawolves will need to keep on improving. Stony Brook found themselves second in the preseason America East Conference rankings, behind Vermont.

The Catamounts along with Boston University and Albany could get in the way of SBU’s goal of finally winning the AE Conference Tournament. But, coach Pikiell is still expecting big things from his ball club this year.

           “We got enough ability to win another championship, and I expect to compete for a league title like we’ve done the last four years,” coach Pikiell said.

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