Get used to it, Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. Yesterday's strain to make more free throws, cut down on turnovers, take more rebounds and play tighter defense in a 75-66 non-conference men's basketball loss to Sacred Heart is going to be a common sight around here.
Stony Brook (4-5) kept a nose in front through most of its first-half toil. But after the break, there were vivid glimpses of the trials Pikiell and his players must deal with: Sacred Heart (3-7) had been averaging 58 points a game but exceeded that by 17, and had been shooting 38 percent but made 45 percent of its field-goal attempts.
With the Seawolves' America East regular-season title and NIT appearance of 2009-10 now only two nice banners on the Pritchard Gymnasium wall, Sacred Heart's 34-30 rebounding advantage was just another reminder that Stony Brook is fielding a dramatically different team. Minus, among other things, injured rebounding demon Tommy Brenton.
"Our season's going to be like this," Pikiell said. "This is our season; every game is going to be close like this. We're going to have to grind it out. We're going to have to make plays down the stretch, and our defense has to get better or we're going to have some long nights."
Four Sacred Heart players, led by sophomore guard Shane Gibson with 19, scored in double figures. But, oh, those turnovers (18 by Stony Brook, 15 by Sacred Heart) and those missed free throws (Sacred Heart made 18 of 24, Stony Brook 15 of 23). Sacred Heart did make 11 of 12 in the final 54 seconds after the Seawolves got within 64-60.
"I say everything is on the coach; coaches lose," Pikiell said. "But free throws are on the kids. They've got to get in the gym and make free throws, because every point is huge for us this year.
"But I go back to defense. Sixty-six [points] is plenty high enough to win the basketball game. Our defense, quite honestly, was not good at all."
Junior guard Bryan Dougher led Stony Brook with 18 points - all on three-point baskets - but after shooting 5-for-6 from beyond the arc before halftime, he was held scoreless in the second half until 25 seconds remained. Junior college transfer Al Rapier added 11 and senior guard Chris Martin 10.
But there is this matter of having four freshmen and a new face such as Rapier trying to fit in, presenting a sort of reverse Ponce de Leon discovery: Youth can have its disadvantages.
Stony Brook used 12 players as Pikiell tried to counter foul trouble and his team's expenditure of extra energy just trying to stay in the second-half race as Sacred Heart turned a 35-34 deficit into a 51-42 lead.
A six-minute Sacred Heart field-goal drought helped Stony Brook creep back to a 54-54 tie with 6:36 to go, but two quick three-point baskets by Gibson and Jerrell Thompson (16 points) immediately sent Sacred Heart toward a 64-54 lead, its biggest of the game, with 3:32 left.
The loss was Stony Brook's third straight at home, but the promise of more close games remains.