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Eric McAlister: Stony Brook’s X factor?
Without a doubt, defense and rebounding have been the trademark of Steve Pikiell’s Stony Brook basketball teams, but this season, Pikiell has his deepest and most diverse offense ever. In the Seawolves’ 79-69 victory over Maine on Saturday afternoon at Pritchard Gym, 6-8 starting forward Eric McAlister, who is averaging 4.7 points, demonstrated his potential with a career-high 22 points.
Perhaps McAlister asserted himself more than ever before because he knew freshman Jameel Warney was playing on a sore knee. The reason doesn’t matter as much as the capability McAlister showed, making two three-pointers and a mid-range jumper to go with four dunks and a beautiful reverse layup off an alley-oop pass from Tommy Brenton.
The 6-8 junior McAlister said the last time he scored 20 points was in high school. He doesn’t have to reach that level every game, but if he can develop into a consistent inside scoring threat in tandem with Warney, the Seawolves’ offense could become devastating.
“Eric’s a good player,” Pikiell said. “He was more aggressive and got himself some easy baskets with Tommy’s assists. “Eric can shoot the ball a little bit and do a little bit of everything. He really came into his own today.”
Asked if he believes he can play as well as he did against Maine on a more consistent basis, McAlister said, “Games like this give you confidence. But we take one game at a time, so, I’m just going to come out and try to bring the same energy when we play Albany.”
Pikiell noted that it actually was the second straight strong game by McAlister, who had nine points and six rebounds in the Seawolves’ previous win at UMBC. The coach added that McAlister’s game against Maine reflected his recent dominance in practice.
Of course, Pikiell couldn’t help but grouse about Stony Brook’s poor second half defense. The Seawolves were their typical tough selves in taking a 31-22 first half lead as they held the Black Bears to 29.6 percent shooting (12 of 27), including 16.7 percent from three-point range (2 of 12). But they gave 47 second-half points to Maine, which shot 7 of 15 from three-point range after intermission.
It was disturbing because Stony Brook (15-5, 6-1 America East) gave up 81 points in its only conference loss a week earlier at Vermont. “I just don’t like our defense right now,” Pikiell said. “We can’t give up 22 points in the first half and then 47. That’s not who we are. We’ll make some changes there. But we can score points when these guys all have it rolling like they did today.”
That’s not something Pikiell could say very often about his offense in the past. The memory lingers of how cold Stony Brook went on offense in last year’s America East tournament title loss to Vermont. But that seems far less likely to happen with the weapons this Seawolves team has on the perimeter and under the basket. If McAlister can sustain his recent play on offense, he might have a major impact come tournament time in March.