The first meeting of the season between America East rivals Stony Brook and Albany Friday night at Island FCU Arena understandably generated a surge in media interest. The Great Danes ended the Seawolves’ NCAA Tournament hopes the previous three years, including the past two in the conference championship game.
But Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell downplayed the buildup because he knows it’s the end of the road that counts, not the middle. “We’ve got 10 more after this one,” Pikiell said before his team’s 69-63 victory over Albany. “If you make it like it’s the Super Bowl, what’s the next game?
“Certainly we have a lot of respect. Albany is good, and we’ve got to protect home court. But it really is just our sixth game in league play.”
Right behind Albany (15-6, 4-2 America East) on the schedule is a game against Maine (6-12, 2-3) which put the only previous blemish on the Great Danes’ conference mark in a major upset Jan. 15. Stony Brook (15-4, 6-0) was supposed to face the Black Bears on Sunday, but because of the forecast of a major snowstorm, that game was rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Island FCU Arena.
At the same time, it seems clear the conference race again is headed for a showdown between the Seawolves and Great Danes. After each of his last two wins over Stony Brook in the conference championship game, Albany coach Will Brown said the Great Danes always feel the pressure is on the Seawolves because they still are in search of their first-ever NCAA bid. With the senior core of Jameel Warney, Carson Puriefoy III and Rayshaun McGrew on the last lap of their careers, this season has a now-or-never feel to it.
“I never worry about what Will Brown says,” Pikiell said. “I coach my team. My guys are in a good place, and we’re playing good basketball. I don’t worry about what other people say about our program. I know where our program is and what we’re trying to do.
“We’ve got to protect home court. Last year, we won at Albany and they won here. Home base is a very important place to take care of.”
Which the Seawolves did Friday night, scoring the final seven points of the game.
Obviously, Pikiell’s major concern is to finish first in the regular season to gain home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs and maximize the Seawolves’ chances. America East statistics suggest Stony Brook is as strong as it’s ever been. Entering Friday night’s action, the Seawolves led the conference in scoring (77.6 points per game) as well as defense (62.1) and scoring margin (15.5).
The Seawolves also led in field-goal percentage (.477), three-point shooting (.372), field-goal defense (.396), three-point defense (.306), rebound margin (8.4), assists (17.2), blocked shots (4.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).
“We can score points this year, which I think is good because we can win in two ways,” Pikiell said. “In the past, we’ve had to win on one end of the floor. We’ve played games this year where I was so disappointed in our defense, but we scored so many points that it didn’t matter. We’re very different.”
The hope is that will result in a different, much happier ending to the season.