Two straight home losses, including a 79-76 stumble in overtime against Lehigh Tuesday night in which Stony Brook blew a 14-point second-half lead, have left the Seawolves searching for their identity with a roster full of new faces. One thing SBU coach Steve Pikiell knows is that he doesn't want to be a team that gets outrebounded and gives up 79 points, and he spent a good half hour after the game discussing that point with his players.
During Thanksgiving break, Pikiell spoke repeatedly about the importance of defending Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, but the Mountain Hawks' star shook loose to score 23 of his 31 points in the second half and overtime. Pikiell (pictured) tried defending McCollum with a combination of Chris Martin, Dave Coley, Marcus Rouse and Al Rapier. In the final minutes of regulation, Rapier seemed to bother McCollum enough to make him miss a shot and then commit a turnover, but he scored six of Lehigh's 13 points in OT.
"We had our chances, but we can't give up 80," Pikiell said. "They're a good offensive team, but we defend people. I thought we'd get better defensively, and tonight, we didn't get the stops when we needed to. It shouldn't have come down to that.
"I say, if the other team has the best player on the floor and you don't stop him, nine out of 10 times, they win. Last year, I had Mo [Muhammad El-Amin, America East MVP]. I always had the best player on the floor. Now, some of these other teams have the best player on the floor, and we have to do a great job of stopping them. McCollum got 31. That's awful by us, and we were keying on him the whole time. Whether it was Al guarding him or Chris Martin or Dave Coley, we didn't do our job. They outrebounded us, too."
Of course, it's difficult for Pikiell not to think about the loss of power forward Tommy Brenton to what most likely will be a season-ending dislocated knee. Brenton was seated on the bench tonight, where the Mountain Hawks were safe from his elbows and banging body. He was the leading rebounder in America East last season and an all-conference defender, and without him, the Seawolves haven't shown the same toughness in their own end.
That has to change, but with several new faces to work into the lineup, it's going to take time for everyone to find their footing. The process also has been complicated by injuries to veterans Dallis Joyner and Rouse. Joyner played the first five games of the season with a serious ankle injury, but he couldn't actually practice until the past week. Rouse underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in one knee and made his season debut against Lehigh after just two practices.
Other than Bryan Dougher, who had 26 points, Rouse was as impressive as anyone for the Seawolves. He scored eight points and had four assists and a steal in 28 minutes. Once he gets his conditioning where it needs to be, look for Rouse to possibly move into the starting lineup. He and Dougher are the Seawolves' best shooters, and Pikiell needs to have them out together as much as possible. Rapier made his first start at small forward, and he's likely to hold onto that position because of his defensive ability and he can contribute some scoring.
That means veteran Chris Martin, who has struggled offensively in the past two losses while shooting 2 for 20 from the field, might find himself in the sixth-man role, where he could flourish with his toughness.
Speaking of the role he wants Rouse to play, Pikiell said, "He gives me stability. He can defend. He's not rattled. He takes big shots. His timing was off today because he's only had two practices, but he's real good…The reality is our veterans have to play better. We just don't have our sync the way I would like it."