The nominal opponent for Stony Brook Wednesday night at Pritchard Gymnasium was University of Maryland-Baltimore County, but the Seawolves' real opponent as they push for a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid is themselves. Following their first America East home loss in three years against New Hampshire recently, coach Steve Pikiell benched star post man Jameel Warney in a win last week at UMass-Lowell.
That was an attention-getter. Pikiell told Warney on Wednesday he could have his starting job back, but he chose to come off the bench along with freshman forward Ahmad Walker, the Seawolves' defensive stopper. It was a shaky start as UMBC shot out to an eight-point lead, but Warney and a tough Stony Brook defense took command and ran away with a 72-53 victory.
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"Me and coach had a conversation, and he wanted me to start," said Warney, who totaled 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block. "I told him I like my role coming off the bench. It's all about team."
For the second straight game, Anthony Mayo (five points, three rebounds) and Kameron Mitchell (three points, one assist, one block in six minutes) started in place of Warney and Walker. "As a coach, you make decisions," said Pikiell, whose 139th career win broke the previous mark set by Joe Castiglie. "You're trying to motivate guys. The bench is a good motivator."
Asked if Warney, who has been fighting the effects of a thumb injury, needed motivating, Pikiell said bluntly, "He's the best player in the league. I wanted more from him. Now, we're getting more from him. He's been the best player on the floor the past two games."
Stony Brook missed nine of its first 10 field goal attempts and committed the six turnovers before Warney tied the game at 12 on a jumper. The Retrievers regained a brief 16-14 lead, but the Seawolves' defensive pressure generated an extended 21-5 run for a 35-21 lead just before halftime. It was ignited by a vicious Warney slam off a pretty feed from Walker.
In the second half, back-to-back threes by Anthony Jackson touched off a 17-6 run that gave Stony Brook its biggest lead at 63-41, and the Seawolves (19-8, 11-2 America East) coasted home. Carson Puriefoy III added 12 points, Dave Coley had 10 and five assists, and Walker had a team-high 10 rebounds. Brett Roseboro led UMBC (9-18, 5-9) with 20 points and nine rebounds, but the Retrievers shot a miserable 3 for 17 from three-point range.
Next for the Seawolves is a game at Maine on Sunday and then a showdown a week from today at Vermont with first place on the line. "This is the perfect time for us to come together," Coley said. "Jameel accepting his role is a huge step."