Month: January 2016

Ball movement keys potent Seawolves offense

Originally published in The Statesman

91 points against Princeton. 86 points against NJIT. 83 points against American, UMass Lowell and UMBC.

All of these point totals, achieved this season by the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team, would have marked a season-best for the Seawolves against Division-I opponents last season.

In fact, Stony Brook is averaging an America East Conference-best 77.3 points per game in 20 contests so far in the 2015-16 season, making it the highest-scoring offense in the team’s Division-I era to date. The scoring is also a significant 11.9 point-per-game improvement from the Seawolves squad that averaged 65.4 points last year.

Ball movement and passing has been a major key in contributing to Stony Brook’s improved offensive efficiency this season, allowing the Seawolves to take more open shots.

Perhaps the best measure of a team’s passing ability is the rate at which it records assists, which are awarded when a player makes a pass that directly leads to a basket by another player. According to Kenpom.com, an advanced statistics database for college basketball, Stony Brook has recorded an assist on 59.3 percent of its made field goals this season, up significantly from the 49.1 percent rate that last year’s team attained.

More simply, the Seawolves are averaging 17.3 assists per game as a team this season after averaging 12.0 assists last campaign.

Head coach Steve Pikiell praised his senior center, Jameel Warney, when asked about his team’s ball movement.

“It all starts with Jameel,” Pikiell said after Friday night’s home win against Albany. “He’s your best passer as your big guy and it’s an unselfish approach. Guys are good passers to begin with but it starts with him—the other day against Hartford he led us in assists.”

Warney, a two-time America East Player of the Year, demands more respect than most players in the low post, as teams throughout the season have thrown double-teams at the America East’s scoring leader, guarding him with multiple defenders. Warney excels in making plays out of double coverage, often passing the ball to a teammate across the court to reverse the point of attack and create holes in the opposing defense.

“I think that really helps the mindset of all the guys,” Pikiell added. “When your best player is willing to make the extra passes, then it’s kind of contagious. Luke [Woodhouse] is a good passer, Ahmad [Walker] can really pass the ball too.”

Neither Walker nor Woodhouse—a pair of junior guards—played for Stony Brook last season, as Walker was attending Barton Community College and Woodhouse was required by NCAA rules to redshirt, or sit out for one season, after transferring to Stony Brook from Longwood University. Their presence has elevated the team’s offensive game, particularly in the passing department.

Walker, as a starting wing player on Pikiell’s offense, has doled out 4.6 assists per game this season, leading the America East. The Port Washington-native notched eight dimes against both Loyola and Hofstra and has dished out at least three assists in 19 of 20 games this season.

Woodhouse, playing the role of the “sixth-man,” as the first substitute off the bench for the Seawolves, has added 3.3 assists per game himself. His prowess in facilitating ball movement was well-known to Stony Brook when he transferred. As a sophomore at Longwood, the point guard ranked fifth in the country with 6.7 assists per game.

The passing display by the Seawolves this season—often comprising of three or four passes directly leading to an open shot—has put the team head and heels above the rest of the conference offensively. Stony Brook leads the America East in scoring, two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and assists.

For many years, Stony Brook has been known for its strong defense—leading in conference in fewest points allowed in five of the last eight seasons. But now, the team may finally have the offense to match its defensive play, perhaps making this team more dangerous than ever before as it seeks its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Two freshmen leading women’s basketball charge

Originally published in The Statesman

Stony Brook Women’s Basketball is off to its best start in America East history, beginning the conference slate with a 5-1 record. The team recently tied the Division-I program record by winning nine consecutive games before losing at Albany on Thursday. Over the course of those contests, the team outscored its opponents by 10.4 points per game.

The recent success has been spearheaded by two freshmen—forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo and guard Davion Wingate—who have starred for the Seawolves in recent weeks.

“We’re playing with confidence now,” Anyagaligbo said. “I can say for a fact that in our second game of the season, against Hofstra, I was terrified out there. Now we’re playing with more confidence and we know each other better. We’re playing as if we want it. We’re hungry for these games now.”

Anyagaligbo is one of two freshmen in the nation averaging a double-double per game this season, the other being Southern Mississippi forward Caitlin Jenkins. In addition, Anyagaligbo is looking to become the first player to average a double-double in the America East since the 2003-04 season. Perhaps more impressive is that she is making 59.3 percent of her shots, the best rate in the conference.

Anyagaligbo has started alongside senior forward Brittany Snow in the frontcourt each game this season for the Seawolves The freshman says she has learned a lot while following in the footsteps of Snow, the team’s leading scorer.

“Britt[any Snow], she just works so hard,” Anyagaligbo said. “She’s like a role model to me. Anything she does, I want to do it too.”

One of the other veteran leaders of the team, junior guard Kori Bayne-Walker, has missed much of the last month’s games with a lower-body injury first suffered against Wagner on Dec. 18 game and then re-aggravated against Binghamton on Jan. 6. According to Stony Brook Athletics, the Seawolves are aiming for Bayne-Walker to return next Saturday, when the team takes on Vermont at home.

“Those are some tough shoes to fill,” head coach Caroline McCombs said after Friday’s loss against Albany. “[Wingate has] done an outstanding job of coordinating everything we’re doing, stepping into that role. Being able to score the ball, finding open players, I think Davion has done an outstanding job of running our team.”

Wingate has excelled in the interim, acting as the starting point guard and averaging 14.1 points per game in her last nine games. Wingate, described in the past by McCombs as more of a scoring guard than a traditional point guard, says she has been working with Bayne-Walker to better run the Stony Brook offense.“It’s been a good opportunity for me to learn the point guard position better and learn some things from Kori,” Wingate said. “She always tells me to be confident.”

Wingate’s confidence has shown on the court, particularly late in games. Against Binghamton, she scored 17 points in the second half to lead her team to a comeback victory after her team trailed by 16 midway through the third quarter.

“I just don’t want to lose,” Wingate said, describing her tendency to take games over late. “I hate, hate, hate to lose.”

Although the pair of Seawolves freshmen have not seemed to have too much trouble at the collegiate level, Anyagaligbo spoke to the adjustment from high school to the NCAA, particularly the difference in game length. College women’s basketball has ten-minute quarters, making the game in total eight minutes longer than high school girl’s basketball, which has eight-minute quarters.

“I have to say that the eight minutes added onto the game have been a huge difference for me,” Anyagaligbo noted. “You have to be in better shape. The game’s longer and the court’s longer.”

Wingate has seen a huge uptick in playing time with Bayne-Walker out—she has played 322 of 325 total minutes of action in her last eight games.

The nine-game winning streak for the women’s basketball team had coincided with a 10-game winning streak from the men’s team, and one would be mistaken to think the players were unaware.

“There’s a friendly competition between the guys and the girls,” Anyagaligbo said in a mid-week interview. “You don’t want to be the first ones to lose, you know?”

Although the women’s team was ultimately the first of the two programs to lose in conference play, the pair of freshmen are no longer lacking in the confidence that had hindered them early in the season.

While Anyagaligbo acknowledged she was “terrified” before the November game against Hofstra, that is not the case anymore. She now enters games with more of a determined mentality.

“I expect us to win,” Anyagaligbo said. “I expect us to play our hardest ball, to go out there and not beat ourselves.”

Behind these two freshmen, Stony Brook has fulfilled Anyagaligbo’s rising expectations, as the Seawolves have enjoyed one of the best season starts in program history.