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Princeton zone gives Stony Brook trouble in loss

Stony Brook Seawolves head coach Steve Pikiell reacts

Stony Brook Seawolves head coach Steve Pikiell reacts against the Hofstra Pride in the second half of an NCAA Division I basketball game at Mack Sports Complex on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

PRINCETON, N.J. - Steve Pikiell knew what he was in for when he put Stony Brook's schedule together.

"We've got a tough schedule,'' he said Saturday after the Seawolves lost to Princeton, 77-64, for their second straight defeat. "It doesn't get any easier. I told these guys before the season, I was challenging them with the non-conference [schedule].''

After losing to Cincinnati on Tuesday, the Seawolves faced a different-looking challenge in Princeton. The Tigers' 1-3-1 zone defense was like Kryptonite to Stony Brook (5-4), which took a 55-46 lead with 9:21 remaining but was outscored 31-9 the rest of the way. The Seawolves finished with 23 turnovers and shot 9-for-30 in the second half, including 1-for-10 from three-point range.

"We're a great offensive team against man-to-man, and we're pretty weak on the zone, so teams are really going to run that a lot against us this season,'' Jameel Warney said.

Warney never seemed comfortable against the zone. The Seawolves' leading scorer had his eighth double-double in nine games -- 12 points and 13 rebounds -- and also shot 4-for-7 but had a hard time getting touches in the low block. He had four assists but also turned the ball over four times.

"I think the zone bothered him a little bit, bothered us as a team, trying to get it to him in the post,'' point guard Carson Puriefoy III said.

Puriefoy also struggled, committing five turnovers and shooting 3-for-14. He had nine points and four assists. Rayshaun McGrew led Stony Brook with 18 points and Chris Braley had 10 off the bench as only three Seawolves reached double figures in scoring.

Princeton (3-6) had been struggling coming into the game, having lost six of its previous seven, but the Tigers' zone and three-point shooting proved too much for Stony Brook. Princeton shot 12-for-26 from outside the arc, with 6-5 sophomore guard Steven Cook going 5-for-7. Cook, who entered the game averaging 8.9 points, had 28 points and seven steals, both career highs.

The teams exchanged blows in a back-and-forth first half and Princeton got to intermission with a 38-36 lead. Early in the second half, the Tigers went away from their zone and played some man-to-man, which allowed Warney to get loose and Stony Brook to briefly take control.

Warney converted a spinning bank shot into a three-point play, putting Stony Brook up 45-44 with 14:02 left, and Princeton missed 10 of 11 shots at one point as the Seawolves went on a 17-3 run for a 55-46 lead.

But Princeton switched back to the 1-3-1 and turned up the pressure at the top of the zone, doubling the ball and trapping the Stony Brook guards. At the same time, the Tigers' shots began to fall. Stony Brook's lead soon melted away.

"We had a couple points, but you never feel good,'' Pikiell said. "They shoot the ball so well. They're a three-point shooting team, so if you have a six-point lead, that's two trips down the floor for them.''

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