Originally published in The Statesman
After losing in four of the last five America East Championship games, the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team finally appeared in its first-ever NCAA Tournament on Thursday night. However, Stony Brook’s first chance came against eight-time national champion Kentucky. The Seawolves’ inexperience in the big dance showed, as the Wildcats won the first round game, 85-57, at Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
The length and size of Kentucky’s defense stifled the Stony Brook offense throughout the game. Head coach Steve Pikiell’s team shot just 26.3 percent from the field, as Kentucky blocked an NCAA Tournament record 15 shots in the contest, including six from freshman forward Skal Labissiere.
After trailing 33-19 at halftime, Stony Brook was unable to cut into the deficit. The Wildcats made 76 percent of their shots in the second half, which included a 21-6 run, to pave the way for a comfortable victory as the Seawolves ended their season with a 26-7 record.
“They were being Kentucky. They are a great defensive team. They were really athletic,” senior forward Jameel Warney said. “You can’t take away from their athleticism, and it’s a different level being face-to-face than just seeing them on TV.”
Kentucky freshman guard Jamal Murray, the third-leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference, scored 19 points for head coach John Calipari’s team. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, who will face the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round on Saturday.
Warney notched his 60th career double-double, scoring a game-high 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds for the Seawolves in what became the final contest for the three-time America East Player of the Year and the Seawolves’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Warney’s success came despite being double-teamed on nearly every possession.
“I will tell you that the respect we had for him we never played him one-on-one,” Calipari said. “Think about that. The guys that have watched me coach know that very rarely do we do that. Like, we just don’t play that way. So we did today.”
“I thought [senior forward] Alex Poythress did a great job of trapping,” Calipari added before praising Warney again. “Skal [Labissiere] did a great job of making shots tough and he still got 23 points. He still got 23.”
No other Seawolves player topped 10 points in the contest. The Stony Brook backcourt struggled as senior guard Carson Puriefoy and junior guards Lucas Woodhouse and Ahmad Walker combined to shoot just 6-for-35 from the field in the game. Senior forward Rayshaun McGrew shot 2-for-11 in the game.
The Wildcats may have led by an even larger margin if it had not been for the Seawolves’ rebounding success. Stony Brook led Kentucky in total rebounds, 46-44, including a 30-23 advantage at halftime, with Warney alone grabbing 10 rebounds in the game’s opening 20 minutes. Stony Brook’s 25 offensive rebounds in the game were the most that Kentucky allowed all season.
In the first half, the Seawolves’ poor offensive execution allowed the Wildcats to take a significant lead, setting the tone for the onslaught that followed. Stony Brook made only three of its first 27 field goal attempts, as Kentucky jumped out to a 28-13 lead with 3:56 remaining in the half. Calipari’s team took a 33-19 lead into the locker room on the way to the victory.
Stony Brook and Kentucky were teams on two different levels, and it showed on Thursday night.
While the Seawolves are perennially near the top of the America East Conference, the game gave the team a sniff of what it strives to be in the future, as Warney even said after the game that Kentucky will make the tournament’s Final Four.
“We have to play who they put us in the bracket with, and we played a great, great program,” Pikiell said. “55th trip to the tournament. Maybe our 55th time we’ll look like them, too.”