Last night was the second game I saw in Pritchard Gym in three days. On Wednesday, Stony Brook gave up a twenty point lead to Cornell but won in overtime 68-59
. This time the defensive-minded Seawolves were hosting the Broncs of Rider. It was the last non-conference game for both teams before conference play truly begins (MAAC teams have each already had two conference games; America East teams start conference play next week).
The Seawolves were trying to win their second game in a row in a string of three straight contests at Pritchard Gym. On Monday, they start conference play at home vs. Vermont. Stony Brook was looking to keep the momentum against a Rider team that has struggled on the season. The Broncs were coming into the night having won two games in a row after losing ten of their first eleven. This season has been a far cry from last season for Coach Tommy Dempsey as the Broncs were 23-11 last season and finished third in the MAAC with a 13-5 conference record.
Pritchard Gym wasn't as filled as it was for the Wednesday night game against Cornell. But there was still a solid crowd and a lot of kids would be a part of the "Cotton Eyed Joe" dance performance later on in the evening. The crowd would also be treated to another solid Stony Brook performance as well.
You could immediately tell that Rider was in for a long night when the Broncs started the game off with a shot clock violation. In fairness to Rider, Stony Brook's man to man defense was quite stingy last evening. The Broncs had a turnover in four of their first five possessions (including the shot clock violation). This allowed Stony Brook to jump out to a 14-4 lead with 14:35 left as six different Seawolves scored.
Rider rallied to cut the lead to 16-12 as Virginia transfer Jeff Jones buried two three pointers. Jones played three seasons at Charlottesville, but decided to transfer to Rider probably due to a lack of playing time. Watching him hit five shots from beyond the arc on the night, you could see he certainly is a high level talent. Unfortunately he waited three seasons before making his decision. Now he only has this season left to play.
Four points would be the closest the Broncs would get the rest of the way. That's because Stony Brook went on an 18-2 run over the span of nearly nine minutes. That was due mainly to the Seawolves' using their staple, the three point shot. Stony Brook hit three shots from beyond the arc during that span to go up 34-14 with about two and half minutes left.
But the Seawolves' run also came due in large part to the hardest working player in the America East, Tommy Brenton. Watching Brenton hustle all over the court, force turnovers and work the glass is an absolute treat. He is only six-foot-five, but he plays like he is six-foot-nine on the boards. He started the run with a jumper and kept one possession alive with an offensive rebound, one of his twelve rebounds on the night.
But my favorite Brenton play would not show up on the stat sheet. Later in the first half when Rider missed on a long jumper, he literally cleared his man out, backing into him with his arms spread out making sure that player never had a chance to touch the ball. Another Stony Brook player grabbed the rebound, but it was a literal clinic by Brenton on how to box out your man.
Rider went into the half down 37-19. They only had 20 shots in the first half while Stony Brook had 33. A lot of this was due to the Seawolves' having nine offensive rebounds and forcing 10 Broncs' turnovers. Meanwhile, Stony Brook only had one turnover in the first half. Ball possession is always key in basketball and the Seawolves did an excellent job of that in the first 20 minutes.
At the start of the second half, Rider came out in a half court trap trying desperately to get back in the game. And it slowly worked for the Broncs. Rider finally used its height advantage and went inside to Daniel Stewart. Stewart scored nine of Rider's seventeen points over the first seven and a half minutes. Stewart's last points of the span cut the lead to 46-36 with twelve and a half minutes left. The Broncs finally were back in the game.
But Stony Brook stretched the lead back out to sixteen, 52-36 with 11:15 left as back to back three pointers by Bryan Dougher and Dave Coley. It meant Rider would have to work hard again to get the lead back to single digits, eating up precious time and effort. The Broncs would get as close as nine points, 59-50 with a little less than seven minutes left, as four of their last five baskets in that time frame were three-pointers.
In Wednesday night's game, the Seawolves' intrepid mascot, Wolfie, pulled out a "shake weight" in the second half. And he used that as a distraction to the Cornell players shooting free throws, as they missed three free throws in a row. So sure enough, last night in the second half Wolfie tried the "shake weight" distraction again. However it had no effect on the Rider players as they hit every free throw when he tried distracting the players. Wolfie finally slumped his head in disappointment on the last free throw made.
But that was the only disappointment on the evening for the Seawolves, as they would score twenty of the last thirty-two points in the game to win 79-62. And it was a team effort as four Stony Brook players scored in double figures led by Coley, who had sixteen points. Dallas Joyner had fifteen points while Dougher scored fourteen and Al Rapier added twelve points. Brenton just missed a double-double with nine points and twelve rebounds. Rider was led by Jones' seventeen points, Stewart added eleven and Brandon Penn had a double-double with ten points and eleven rebounds.
As the teams left the court, one team, Stony Brook, left knowing they would ring in the new year on a high note. They shot 49% on the night and had only seven turnovers on offense. Coach Pikiell had to be pleased with his team's effort last night.
The other team, Rider, left wondering what has happened in the span of several months. They had eleven losses all last season. Now they have as many losses this season after just fourteen games. Coach Dempsey must be shaking his head at this moment in disbelief.
As for Rider's sudden turnaround, all I can think of is what Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall once said in an interview with Kyle Whelliston: "The game will hurt you".