If there’s one thing that sticks in Steve Pikiell’s craw about Stony Brook’s loss earlier this season at Vermont, it’s the number 81 – as in the season-high number of points the Seawolves yielded. The Catamounts led by 18 points with 10 minutes left, and when SBU cut the deficit to four, Vermont managed to get to the rim for easy baskets down the stretch of its 81-73 win.
It hurt that Stony Brook (18-6, 9-2 America East) starting point guard Anthony Jackson missed the game with an injury, but the Catamounts (16-8, 9-3) also were without starting forward Luke Apfeld. Both those players will be back on the floor Friday night at Pritchard Gymnasium to battle for first place in the conference, but Pikiell expects his defense to show marked improvement if only because freshmen Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy III, who started in Jackson’s place, have more experience.
“I think they did a great job of attacking our two freshmen,” Pikiell said of the first game. “It was a man’s game, and I thought they just took advantage of Trey Puriefoy and Jameel Warney on the defensive end and we fouled too much. They made shots, and we didn’t. I think we’re better now, but they’re a good team.
“You’ve got to play well against Vermont. They never beat themselves. They’re going to play good defense, they’re going to run good offense. You have to beat them. You have to play good basketball, and we didn’t. They were better than us that night.”
The Catamounts got a huge 25-point game from guard Candon Rusin, who averages 8.1 points, and forward Clancy Rugg scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while getting to the line to make 11 of 16 free throws. Point guard Sandro Carissimo, a perennial thorn in Stony Brook’s side, added 12 points. Apfeld adds three-point range to Vermont’s attack, and forward Brian Voelkel is the glue, focusing on defense, rebounding and assists similar to what Tommy Brenton does for the Seawolves.
Pikiell said Brenton will be matched against Voelkel and Rugg at various times, and he even took on Carissimo last time. Stony Brook guards Dave Coley, Jackson, Puriefoy and Marcus Rouse all could see Carissimo during the course of the game. But Warney will have to be more aware of his defensive responsibilities in the low post than he was the first time around, and the Seawolves generally have to cut down on the turnovers that lead to Catamount fast breaks.
“They’re real physical and preach defense, and we pride ourselves on it, too,” Pikiell said of Vermont. “They’re ranked in the top 10 in every defensive category, and we’re ranked in the top 10 in every defensive category. It’s going to be one of those games.
“But I’m looking forward to it. We play better at Pritchard. Our crowd will be ready. They played well at their gym. They covered their home base, and now, we’ve got to cover our home base.”