November always was going to be the "boot camp" portion of the schedule for a Stony Brook basketball team breaking in five freshmen and some largely untested sophomores to go with junior mainstays Jameel Warney, Carson Puriefoy III and Rayshaun McGrew.
The Seawolves came through it with a 5-2 record and extended their winning streak to four games with a 70-49 victory over Division II St. Thomas Aquinas Saturday afternoon in front of 2,159 at Island FCU Arena. The game was the fourth for SBU as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Seawolves were 3-1 in that event, losing a 10-point decision at Georgia before beating Western Kentucky and LIU Brooklyn.
"I think we've grown a lot," coach Steve Pikiell said. "I've figured my rotation out. We have a lot of newcomers, and we played a lot of different team styles. Hopefully, it will help us. I like this team. We're a little inexperienced, but I like the way we play together."
Aquinas (1-4) shot only 25.9 percent as the Seawolves ran up a 37-16 halftime advantage. That grew to a high of 26 points in the second half.
Warney, who was America East player of the year as a sophomore, continued to show his growth, recording his sixth double-double in seven games. He had 15 points, shot 7-for-10 and added 11 rebounds, four assists, five blocked shots and zero turnovers.
Always the subject of double-teaming on the low block, Warney has developed the ability to step out and hit a midrange jumper.
"People will guard me different," Warney said. "Coach has told me to be more aggressive, so if I can shoot jump shots, I will. It will change my game, and it will open my teammates up more."
Sophomore shooting guard Kameron Mitchell had a career-high 14 points and shot 5-for-6, including four three-pointers. Puriefoy had a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with 11 points and five assists but also five turnovers. Freshman forward Tyrell Sturdivant added 11 points and five boards.
The Seawolves had a 45-32 rebounding advantage and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range, thanks to a game that should be a confidence-booster for Mitchell.
"It's huge," he said. "My teammates got me the ball early. Once you get a rhythm like that, it's kind of easy to go from there . . . Playing with [Warney], we play inside-out. He'll find me. If I get that open shot, I can knock it down."
The highlight of the second half was a spin move by Warney out of a triple-team for a baseline drive that took him under the basket and up the other side for a two-handed slam. "Once I spin, I just knew I was going to dunk," Warney said. "It was an aggressive move."
Pikiell played his starters deep into the second half against the Spartans' full-court press. It was good experience for all the newcomers and good preparation for a stretch of four road games against tough opponents, starting Tuesday at Cincinnati (5-1 after a 66-54 loss to Ole Miss Saturday night) of the American Athletic Conference.
"I think it's great because Cincinnati is definitely known for their defense, known for pressuring the ball and speeding up opposing point guards," Puriefoy said of the work against the press. "I think we handled that pretty well, and we have another practice to prepare for them.
"This was definitely a learning experience with all these games in a short amount of time. Coach has been stressing togetherness and toughness. We're 4-0 in this little stretch we had, so we're ready for Cincinnati."