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Hofstra, Stony Brook set for showdown to determine area’s top team

Defense-oriented Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, above, will

Defense-oriented Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, above, will face Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich and his high-powered offense on Sunday at Stony Brook. Credit: Daniel De Mato

If there was one local college basketball game in the New York metropolitan area that stood out above the rest when schedules were announced last summer, it was the matchup between Hofstra and Stony Brook on Sunday afternoon at Island FCU Arena on the SBU campus.

After a hiatus of five years, the rivalry resumed last year with a 66-65 barnburner that the Pride won with a basket in the final 1.6 seconds. It’s not a stretch to say Hofstra (6-3) and Stony Brook (5-4) are the top two programs in the metro area this season and have the top two players in Pride point guard Juan’ya Green and Seawolves post man Jameel Warney. Hof stra was the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association and SBU was the America East favorite.

“These two programs are as good as anybody,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “They can play, we can play. Our schedule was brutal, and we’re on the road a lot just like Hof stra. They played a brutal schedule, too.”

As mid-majors, both schools have taken some licks on the road, but the Pride scored a signature win over Florida State in the Paradise Jam and the Seawolves pushed a ranked Vanderbilt team into overtime before losing a tough one. Green ranks eighth nationally in assists (7.0); Warney is 10th in rebounds (11.2) and seventh in double-doubles (seven) after leading the nation in that category last season.

Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich attended a New England prep tournament on a recruiting trip last week and compared notes with several America East coaches who have faced Warney.

“I’m sitting with the coaches at Vermont, Binghamton is here and New Hampshire was here,” Mihalich said. “They all said, ‘Forget it. You can’t guard [Warney].’ There’s no answers for him. He’s an automatic double-double no matter who they’re playing. We’re going to try everything and see if something works . . . They’re one of the top three teams on our non-conference schedule.”

Part of the intrigue is the contrasting styles played by both schools.

Hofstra is an outstanding offensive team capable of outscoring most opponents, and the addition of graduate forward Denton Koon to Green, Brian Bernardi and Ameen Tanksley has added to the firepower. Mihalich said his defense must improve, which is why he recently put his team through a “boot camp” in practice. Center Rokas Gustys will be a “big key” against Warney, Mihalich said.

Pikiell always has emphasized defense and rebounding but has more scoring around Warney and point guard Carson Puriefoy with the addition of forward Ahmad Walker and the emergence of sophomore three-point shooter Bryan Sekunda.

“They’re a terrific offensive team, as good as we’ll see all year,” Pikiell said of the Pride. “They’ve got a ton of weapons. I thought we were experienced, but their experience is ridiculous, all fifth-year seniors. [Mihalich] is a good coach who has built a nice program.”

Despite the focus on Warney and Green, Pikiell said the help they receive from teammates will be vital. “Everyone talks about Juan’ya and they’ll talk about Jameel, but it’s the other guys that are going to dictate who wins this game,” Pikiell said. “Tanksley, I mean, he would be the player of the year in the CAA if it wasn’t for his teammate.”

The coaches credit athletic directors Jeff Hathaway of Hofstra and Shawn Heilbron of Stony Brook and their administrations for putting the rivalry back together. “We should play Hofstra,” Pikiell said. “We enjoyed the game last year. It was a great college basketball game, and it’s good for Long Island basketball. I think it will be an exciting day and a great non-conference game.”

“It’s a natural,” Mihalich said. “I was from Philadelphia, and college basketball is great there because everybody plays each other. I don’t know why we don’t do that in New York. Nobody wants to play. So I’m glad we’re playing Stony Brook. I wish we were playing all the local schools. I think it would be great.”

New York Sports