Technically speaking, this last non-conference game of the season will not help Stony Brook one bit in its drive to finally make the NCAA Tournament. The point is, though, that the Seawolves know there is much more to a season than little technicalities.
So they were pumped before their game at Columbia Tuesday night, and more pumped during and after it. They left Morningside Heights with a 70-61 win and with a feeling that they are much better off than when they started.
"We ended on a great note. We learned a lot in our non-conference games,'' said Jameel Warney, who had yet another dominant effort, with 25 points (12-for-16 shooting) and 13 rebounds. "We've grown as a team, our chemistry is getting better. It's great to go into conference play like this.''
It was the 13th double-double for Warney, most in the nation. He was as excited as anyone, letting out a whoop when he sank a foul-line jump shot, something not expected in his low-post repertoire. "If I can make that shot, it can open up a new world for me and my teammates, a new dimension for our offense,'' he said.
The new world they crave is the Big Dance. The Seawolves (10-6, 1-0) know there is little chance for an at-large bid for America East. So coach Steve Pikiell arranged a deliberately tough non-conference schedule to harden them.
"Teams play Jameel 100 different ways, and it's great,'' Pikiell said. "He's seen every kind of defense. During games I say, 'This is the exact same way American guarded you, this is the exact same way Princeton guarded you, this is how Washington guarded you.' ''
On Tuesday night, the key was how Stony Brook guarded someone else. The team challenged itself to stop guard Maodo Lo, who was averaging 17.8 points and was held to nine.
"We had a saying that everybody has to guard Lo,'' said Carson Puriefoy, who guarded him much of the game (and made 11 of 12 free throws in the second half to put the game away).
Rayshaun McGrew had another solid game, with 15 points, but Pikiell was pleased with his whole roster against a team that played tough in a 56-46 loss to No. 1 Kentucky. The Seawolves knew this game counted for something.
Warney said, "We love playing with each other and we know at the end of the day, this is one step closer to our goal.''