Frustration is a fact of life for Stony Brook basketball coach Steve Pikiell. Twice in the past three seasons, he has been one win away from the NCAA tournament, and last season ended with a two-point loss at Seton Hall in a first-round NIT game.
File Friday night’s 60-59 loss to Seton Hall of the Big East under the same heading. It marked the third time this season, the Seawolves have challenged a school from a power conference and fallen just short. The list includes a 73-62 loss at Connecticut and a 76-69 defeat at Maryland that was a two-point game with less than 30 seconds to play.
Down at Maryland, Pikiell was pleased with his frontcourt. Friday at the Prudential Center, he was pleased with backcourt mates Dave Coley, who tied his career-high with 21 points, and Anthony Jackson, who had 15. But freshman post man Jameel Warney struggled, shooting 2 for 10 and scoring five points while grabbing just three rebounds.
“Now, we have to put it all together where the frontcourt is great and the backcourt is great and we have a chance to win games,” Pikiell lamented.
It’s always something. Pikiell credited Seton Hall for dominating the boards, 38-30, and for getting to the foul line to make 13 of 17 attempts. Of course, the latter stat often is a sign of the uphill climb faced by a budding mid-major like Stony Brook (8-4). The Seawolves got only 10 foul shots despite being bounced around inside, and they failed to capitalize on those precious opportunities by missing half of them.
Of such things is the thin margin of defeat constructed. You could point to a litany of things that went the way of Seton Hall (11-2), including a 20-point first-half performance by reserve Brian Oliver, who made six of eight three-point attempts to give the Pirates their 38-31 halftime lead but didn't score another point.
“I don’t know if he’s scored that many points all season,” Pikiell groaned. The Seawolves’ coach credited his defense for turning off the three-point spigot in the second half when the Pirates made only two of 13 from beyond the arc. Of course, one that went in was by Brandon Mobley during a 9-2 burst that gave the Hall a 60-57 lead.
After taking a 53-48 lead with 9:14 left, Stony Brook scored only six points the rest of the way. But Pikiell was more concerned with his defense, saying, “I thought our defense was the problem. They got second shots up, and we didn’t get to the foul line enough. Every point matters in a game like this.”
Trailing 58-57 coming out of a timeout, Pikiell was happy to see Jackson get off a clean shot, but unhappy to see it rim in and out. “There’s the difference,” Pikiell said. “It was a great look by our best shooter, but it didn’t go in.”
The Seawolves suffered similar frustration with 3.6 seconds remaining. They inbounded to Tommy Brenton on the baseline, but the ball was knocked out of his hands. “I thought Tommy had a layup,” Pikiell said. “I’ll have to look at the film and see what happened. I thought we ran the right play at the right time.”
What happened was that the defender hacked the ball away without drawing a whistle. With just 1.3 seconds left, Jackson’s final attempt at a buzzer-beater had little chance of going in.
“We had our chances down the stretch,” Pikiell said. “I think we can play. When these guys are good, and they’re in tune defensively, we were great in the second half. We didn’t give them any easy shots…We’ll move forward. If we can play like this and get some great efforts out of our post guys, we’ll be fine.”
There’s no doubt Stony Brook will contend for another America East regular-season title. Albany and Vermont will be tough, but the Seawolves have a good mix of inside and outside offensive weapons, and their defense and rebounding remain their trademarks. At some point, their best efforts have to be rewarded with elation instead of frustration – don’t they?