Stony Brook's 69-59 victory over University of Maryland-Baltimore County marked just the second game back on the floor for wing man Chris Martin since his return from meniscus surgery on his right knee. But the senior threw his body around recklessly despite the elastic sleeve covering his right knee.
He crashed to the floor at least three times, but the fact he kept going was a positive sign that things are moving in the right direction for the Seawolves (9-12, 4-5 America East). Martin played only 11 minutes but made his only field-goal attempt and got to the line for six foul shots, making four. He also had two steals and an assist in that short stint, and his veteran presence is exactly what coach Steve Pikiell's team needs as it tries to fight its way uphill to the .500 mark.
"Chris Martin has helped us a lot in practice and in the locker room," Pikiell said. "He's a voice of urgency because his career is ending. These other guys, they think they've got another 12 years. His urgency is just different, and he's brought a little bit of an attitude and a swagger. The other thing he does is get to the free throw line. We've got to get him in shape. Hopefully, in another two weeks, he's back to 25 minutes a game because he gives us a whole other dimension, and he gives me a veteran that's been through some wars."
For one thing, Martin gives the Seawolves a player who will drive to the basket and draw contact if he doesn't score. Stony Brook scored only 14 points in the paint against UMBC because it was content to settle for jump shots.
Of the 110 combined shots launched by the Retrievers and Seawolves, 49 came from three-point range. SBU had a better ratio, shooting 21 of 50 from beyond the arc to 28 of 60 for UMBC. But still, the Seawolves have to develop a mindset to get to the basket more if they want to have success in the America East and build toward conference tournament time.
Right now, they're getting by on a defense that is the best in the league and that held UMBC to 30.0 percent shooting (18 of 60) and limited AE leading scorer Chris De La Rosa to 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting. If the Seawolves can get a little more inside scoring, it will take some of the pressure off their jump shooters, and that's where Martin can help because he's also good at creating turnovers and scoring on the fast break.
So far, Maine (14-7, 8-1) and Vermont (16-5, 7-2) have been the class of the league. The Seawolves still have a chance to climb in the standings now that they have won two straight after a stretch in which they they lost six of seven. The next step is a game against preseason favorite Boston University (10-13, 5-4) Friday night at Pritchard Gymnasium.
Asked if his team can get back to .500, Pikiell said, "No doubt. I feel good about the way we're playing, and I love the way we've been defending all year. We're locking teams up. We're No. 1 in almost every defensive category, and we're getting better offensively. I'm encouraged, but we've got a long ways to go. We're still finding our way a little bit, but we're getting closer to where I'd like us to be. We could make things interesting here if we keep plugging away."
ESPN Bracketbuster pairing revealed
Stony Brook has learned the identity of it's matchup for the ESPN Bracketbuster game scheduled Feb. 19 at Pritchard Gymnasium. The Seawolves will meet Manhattan (4-18) of the MAAC. That means SBU will be playing the Jaspers next season at Draddy Gym.