Stony Brook’s 77-62 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson Wednesday night at Pritchard Gym had some nail-biting moments that belie the final score. The Seawolves blew all but three points of a 17-point lead before pulling away with a 15-3 run at the end of the game.
Not exactly the confidence-booster they were looking for heading into their 11 a.m. meeting with LaSalle, Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The Explorers (4-4) were a Sweet 16 darling last season, and they return four of five starters this season.
It’s a tall task for Stony Brook (6-3), but head coach Steve Pikiell is confident a tough early-season schedule has prepared his team for the challenge. “I said to these guys, ‘There’s not anything we haven’t seen, every defense, every double-team’’” Pikiell said of his players. “We’re just playing really good teams this year. We’re going to play [Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 3]. We’re going to be well-tested before conference play.”
The Seawolves already have beaten a tough Northeastern team and won a three-overtime thriller at Detroit. They lost by 16 to Indiana of the Big Ten and by only four to undefeated Toledo and dropped a heartbreaker by two at home against tough St. Francis of Brooklyn.
Pikiell is the first to admit that his team, which is accustomed to playing clinging, in-your-face, man-to-man defense, has struggled with the new rules that result in a plethora of touch fouls. Through nine games, Pikiell said he’s had 11 players foul out compared to zero at the same stage a year ago.
Before the FDU game, Stony Brook’s opponents had gone from an average of 14.1 fouls shots per game to 27.3. That reversed against the Knights, who only got to the line for seven foul shots compared to 36 for the Seawolves. But against the bigger teams, it’s been a struggle to keep them off the line.
On the other hand, Pikiell said he kind of likes the way his team is scoring compared to past years, although it takes some getting used to. “I like this team,” Pikiell said. “We can score points. That’s different for us. I have to understand that, too, and let them play.”
The Seawolves will need all the firepower they can muster against LaSalle. “It’s a great opportunity against a good team,” guard Dave Coley said. “They’ve got a couple of good guards. Trying to beat a Sweet 16 team is huge for us.”
The setting should be fun, too, preceding a later game between St. John’s and Fordham at the Garden. “We’re playing in the greatest arena on national TV,” Carson Puriefoy said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. I think we’ll rise to the occasion.”