It’s been a topsy-turvy year in college basketball, and the America East Conference is no exception. Stony Brook lost its grip on first place when it was upset Sunday at Hartford, but Vermont returned the favor with a loss Tuesday night at Boston University while the Seawolves were romping to a 73-47 win over last-place Binghamton.
That means Stony Brook (18-6, 9-2 America East) has a half-game lead and a one-game advantage in the loss column over the Catamounts (16-8, 9-3) before their big Friday showdown at soldout Pritchard Gym in a game that will be televised on ESPN3. Despite that mathematical edge, the Seawolves can’t afford a loss that would leave them even with Vermont in the loss column because the Cats would have the tiebreaker by virtue of their previous 81-73 victory in Burlington.
That was Stony Brook’s worst defensive performance of the season, so, it was telling to see how hard the Seawolves worked on defense against Binghamton even in the second half when the lead rose as high as 34 points. At one point, guard Anthony Jackson dove on the floor for a loose ball, and the Seawolves contested everything as they held the Bearcats to 22.2 percent shooting (6-of-27) in the second half.
“We can’t have letups just because we’re up 30 points,” guard Dave Coley said. Asked about the approaching battle with Vermont, Coley added, “It means a lot. It’s for first place. Our execution and transition defense has to be better. At Vermont, we didn’t play Stony Brook defense. We don’t give up 81 points.”
No doubt, Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell will emphasize the need to be much sharper against a Vermont team that managed to get inside for easy baskets when Stony Brook threatened to come back from an 18-point second-half deficit at Burlington. But against Binghamton, Pikiell made a decision to change his starting front line, replacing 6-8 Eric McAlister with 6-9 redshirt freshman Scott King (pictured).
King provides a three-point scoring component, but he was 0-for-3 against the Bearcats, while McAlister had a solid game off the bench with six points and four rebounds in just 11 minutes.
“I wanted to shake things up,” Pikiell explained. “Scott’s an offensive player, and [the Bearcats] played a lot of zone. I thought Eric responded the right way. Scott King can really score points. I think he gives us a little lift. But they’ve been close in practice all year. It’s a coin toss with those two guys.
“Everyone’s got to be ready on this team. You can go from five minutes to being a starter. I liked that Eric gave us a physicality with our second unit. We lose some physicality with those guys, but Eric brings a little more to that second unit. We needed that.”
In some ways, Stony Brook’s rout of Binghamton should have been a confidence booster that reinforced what the Seawolves need to do against Vermont. But Pikiell said, “Confidence is never an issue for us. We’ve got a good basketball team coming in here. It’s not about confidence. It’s about playing the right way and being focused. When we are, we’re good. I like playing at home. We’ve been on the road a lot this year, and it’s nice to be home.”