ALBANY -- The beauty of this America East conference tournament for Stony Brook is that, unlike last year, the Seawolves don’t have to face Albany on its home floor at SEFCU Arena in the semifinals. As the No. 1 seed a year ago, the SBU left heartbroken after Great Danes guard Mike Black drove for the winning layup in the final seconds of a 61-59 win.
After routing Maine, 80-54, in their quarterfinal game Saturday evening, the Seawolves (22-9) get Hartford (17-15) in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal Sunday night. At 5 p.m., fourth-seeded Albany (16-14) will try to do to No. 1 Vermont (22-9) what it did to SBU a year ago.
Hartford was just getting underway in its 69-42 victory over Binghamton (7-23) when Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell was asked for a brief assessment of both potential opponents. “I don’t care who we play,” Pikiell said. “We’re focused on ourselves right now. We want to be locked in. You have less than 24 hours to prepare, so, you can’t reinvent the wheel at this time of the year.
“I think they really came together today as a defensive unit. We’ve been scoring a lot of points for us. It’s been [about] our defense all along. Today, we put a good defensive number on a good offensive team, so, I was pleased with that.”
Actually, there were too many good defensive numbers to count for Stony Brook. The Seawolves held Maine, the top-scoring team in America East, to 25.9 percent shooting in the first half and 3-of-19 shooting from three-point range for the game. They forced 23 Black Bears turnovers and had 12 steals. That led to advantages of 26-8 in points off turnovers and 10-0 in fast-break points.
The problem against Hartford is that the Hawks can spread the floor and shoot 37.6 percent from three-point range. Forward Mark Nwakamma is third in the league with a 15.1 scoring average and is a tough defensive assignment for Warney in the post.
But Pikiell was pleased by Warney’s four blocks against Maine and has made it clear that the big man’s presence is even more important at the defensive end than on offense. “We’ve got to go out with great energy and swarm and stick together,” Warney said, “and we’ll be fine.”