Stony Brook welcomed back a former key piece as junior college transfer Ahmad Walker is returning to the Seawolves.
After starting 31 of 34 games as a redshirt freshman for Stony Brook during the 2013-14 season, Walker left the program last summer and played his sophomore season at Barton Community College.
The 6-foot-4 Walker led Barton in points (20.6), rebounds (7.7) and assists (5.5) and joins an already deep Stony Brook team that returns most of its pieces from last season’s America East title game appearance.
In his only season at Stony Brook, Walker averaged 7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and was an America East all-rookie team selection.
The Seawolves already return two-time America East Player of the Year in forward Jameel Warney and now they’ll have to see if Walker fits back into the starting lineup, or becomes part of a deep bench. With the return of Warney, experienced guard Carson Puriefoy and forward Rayshaun McGrew, Stony Brook was already in position to be on the of the favorites in the America East next season and the return of a proven player like Walker only helps in that projection.
It was never specified why Walker left the program the first time around, but he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after his season in the junior college ranks.
Stony Brook hands No. 13 Washington its first loss of the season
Through 11 games Lorenzo Romar’s Washington Huskies, picked to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in the preseason poll, was one of college basketball’s biggest surprises as they racked up 11 wins and moved to 13th in the AP poll. With wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma to their credit, Sunday’s matchup with Stony Brook didn’t look to be much of an issue for the Huskies in their final tune-up before the start of Pac-12 play.
However the Seawolves, preseason favorites to win America East, didn’t quit despite trailing by as much as 16 and Steve Pikiell’s team ultimately came back to win 62-57. Jameel Warney, a forward who deserves more national praise than he’s received, banked in a shot with 29.1 seconds remaining to give Stony Brook its first lead of the game. The junior scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists with fellow forward Rayshaun McGrew adding ten points to go along with a career-high 14 rebounds to lead the way for Stony Brook.
But it was guard Kameron Mitchell, who is averaging just 3.9 points per game on the season, who made some key plays that sparked Stony Brook’s second half rally. Mitchell, who finished the game with 12 points, made three of his four three-pointers during a three-minute stretch in which the Seawolves managed to cut Washington’s lead to 55-52 with just over four minutes left in the game.
And with second-leading scorer Carson Puriefoy struggling from the field, Mitchell’s second-half contributions couldn’t have come at a better time for Stony Brook. Puriefoy, currently averaging 14.6 points per game, shot just 2-for-12 from the field and scored six points Sunday night.
For many teams that kind of performance from a key player would essentially guarantee defeat, but that wasn’t the case for Stony Brook thanks in part to Mitchell’s perimeter shooting.
As for Washington, this wasn’t the best of nights for any of the three players who have been so important for them this season. Guards Andrew Andrews (eight points, seven rebounds and four assists) and Nigel Williams-Goss (ten points, three assists) combined to score 18 points on 8-for-26 shooting, and center Robert Upshaw (ten points, 11 rebounds and four blocks) shot 5-for-13 from the field.
As a team the Huskies shot just 34.3% from the field, marking just the third time this season that they’ve failed to shoot at least 40 percent. While those numbers, and the fact that Stony Brook converted 12 Washington turnovers into 19 points, would make it easy to ask the “what’s wrong with Washington” question the Seawolves deserve the credit for not going away from what they do best despite the 16-point margin.
For programs such as Stony Brook their most important chapter will be written in March, with the goal of an NCAA tournament berth coming down to their ability to win three straight games in the conference tournament. But even with that being the case, their first-ever win over a ranked opponent is one Stony Brook won’t forget anytime soon.
Stony Brook has slowly built its men’s basketball program into a respectable annual postseason contender.
They just haven’t made the NCAA Tournament and drawn a lot of national attention.
But the vision is there for a successful long-term Division I basketball program.
If you look at the profile of head coach Steve Pikiell’s program during his 10 seasons as coach, and the history of Stony Brook basketball, you’ll see they’re on an impressive run.
Four out of the past five seasons have resulted in at least 20 wins and postseason appearances, three of those times in the NIT for the Seawolves. They’ve had three of the last five America East Players of the Year, led most recently by junior forward Jameel Warney, who won the award as a sophomore.
The problem is, Stony Brook has fallen short the last couple of seasons of making the field of 68 and they’ve watched teams like Albany and Vermont make multiple postseason appearances from the league.
Pikiell and Warney hope that changes this year. Stony Brook fell just short again last season, falling in the America East Conference Tournament title game at home against Albany, but they have no seniors on the roster and a talented group of returnees.
Warney is one of the most impressive mid-major front-court players in the nation. The 6-foot-8 junior forward averaged 14.5 points and 8 rebounds on 61 percent field goal shooting as a sophomore and worked very hard this summer. Pikiell said it was Warney’s first full summer on-campus in the weight room and he’s added muscle while losing weight.
“It’s his team now. He’s in as good as shape as he’s ever been in. He’s added a 15-foot jump shot to his game,” Pikiell told NBCSports.com. “He’s young. He came in as a young freshman and I think he’s really matured the last couple years. I think he has a chance to be a really terrific player on the national level, too.”
Warney returns along with fellow junior Carson “Tre” Purifoy, who averaged 12.9 points last season and shot 43 percent from three-point range, as well as German import and redshirt freshman Roland Nyama, a 6-foot-6 wing who Pikiell called, “as athletic as any player we’ve had in the program.”
The urgency is there to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time because Stony Brook has historically never achieved success for any sustained number of years in men’s basketball. The Division III run produced some 20-win seasons and the Division II years only produced two total winning seasons.
In the first 10 seasons as a Division I program, since 1999, Stony Brook only had two winning seasons.
So this latest run of 20-win seasons and postseason appearances is historic for the school and a NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history would be big for the sustained future of the program.
“I’m most proud of where it started off (to now),” Pikiell said. “We had spots of success at Division III. At Division II we really struggled and then we jumped into Division I. I’m really proud to win 20 games and play in postseasons, which is not something we’ve ever done.”
The recent success has helped give the program unprecedented momentum as they move into a new 4,000 seat arena this season from a 1,700 seat arena. Pikiell said that season ticket numbers in his 10 years as head coach have jumped from 40 to 2,000 as the fan base is clearly enjoying this new era of success.
“It’s amazing. Now that it’s here more fans can come so we’re just excited,” Warney said. “Every year it keeps getting better and better. More fans; more support. It gets louder and louder.”
Success at Stony Brook would mean as much to Pikiell as anybody. He started his 10-year run as head coach with a four-win season, oversaw a program on probation, had academic casualties and didn’t sustain a winning record until year four.
Unlike a lot of administrations of Division I men’s basketball programs, Stony Brook stuck with Pikiell and their shared long-term plan to make the Seawolves successful.
Stony Brook finally reaching a national stage would mean the vision worked.