By his own admission, Steve Pikiell never is happy during the season, but he came close yesterday. The man who always believes his team can be a little better was pleased that Stony Brook rebounded, in every sense of the word.
"We played the way I wanted our team to play," Pikiell said. "When you grab 50 rebounds and you get 25 offensive rebounds, that's a lot of effort. That's a basketball team that's hungry."
In the figurative sense, too, there was much to like about the game - notwithstanding that it's hard to lose to UMBC (1-17, 0-5). The key thing for Stony Brook (12-7, 4-2) was that it rebounded from tough America East losses at Binghamton and Maine. It didn't matter which team was on the other bench at raucous (despite intercession) Pritchard Gymnasium. It was important that the Seawolves did enough to believe in themselves. Check.
"It just gets us back on track," said sophomore guard Bryan Dougher, who had 23 points. "We've got a big one with Vermont, the best team in the league, coming up on Thursday. It just puts us in the right mind-set to get focused for that game."
Sophomore forward Tommy Brenton took to heart the coach's challenge and encouragement and was aggressive against his hometown team. Brenton, who comes from Columbia, Md. - as does UMBC's Chauncey Gilliam (24 points) - had 12 of his 14 points in the first half and finished with 11 rebounds.
Stony Brook needed his toughness. Despite taking leads of 20-4 and 28-12, the Seawolves couldn't exhale until Muhammad El-Amin (20 points) converted a basket and free throw with 1:49 left to build a 71-62 edge. It kept Stony Brook on pace to top last season's 16-win total, which was the best it has had in Division I. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can dream of The Big Dance.
"I think we have a long way to go still. I think we can be a great team," Brenton said. "We slipped up a little, but we've got a big game coming up and that's where we want to prove ourselves. If we get a big win against Vermont, we can show the whole conference this is a good team."
Don't tell his players, but Pikiell sounded happy. "I like us playing the way we played tonight,'' he said. "We rebounded, we were tough, we defended."
Don't expect a team party, though. "I'm never happy during the season,'' he said. "That's just the way it is. I always think they can give more.''