With key pieces wounded, Pikiell tries to mix and match

Stony Brook is finding ways to win. That doesn’t mean Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell has to be happy with his team’s performance so far.

After a nail-biter on Tuesday morning – Stony Brook edged the Monmouth University Hawks by the uncomfortably close score of 51-49 – Pikiell talked to One-Bid Wonders about the state of the Seawolves. While there is certainly plenty for America East’s Long Island representative to work on, Pikiell is convinced his team is headed in the right direction despite some underwhelming results to date.

“We’re finding ourselves. I think at the end of the year we’re going to be a good team,” stated the Stony Brook coach, before adding, “but I don’t know if we’re a good team today.”

The Seawolves’ plans were irreversibly altered during preseason when junior forward Tommy Brenton, the team’s leader and best player, suffered a major knee injury. Brenton has not been officially ruled out until next season, but all evidence suggests an earlier return is unlikely.

Brenton isn’t the only Seawolf on the trainer’s table. Dallis Joyner has been battling a high ankle sprain. While Joyner has managed to play through the injury and even leads all Stony Brook players in rebounds, the injury is still having an effect. The junior forward is shooting just 24 percent from the field.

Pikiell elaborated: “Dallis sprained his ankle really badly, so he hasn’t really practiced this season and has been a game-time decision every game. He’s really not close to 100 percent yet.”

With sophomore guard Marcus Rouse also injured, Stony Brook’s freshmen have been asked to play – and play well – from day one.

“We like our freshmen a lot,” said Pikiell. “Anthony Jackson has been real good. We think that [David] Coley is going to be a real big-time scorer, and we think that [Anthony] Mayo and [Eric] McAlister will be good, but they might be a year away.

“But they’re really being thrown into the fire right now because of our situation with depth – playing without Tommy, without Rouse, and with Dallis really being limited.”

Pikiell is hopeful that at least one key piece is on the mend. By way of offering an update on Rouse, he noted, “Hopefully we’ll get Rouse back after five or six games, and I’ll feel a lot better about our rotation.” But that optimism was balanced with a dose of reality, as Pikiell also admitted, “We’re trying to get [Rouse] back as soon as we can, but it’s not anytime soon.”

With last season’s Player of the Year, Muhammad El-Amin, lost to graduation, Brenton out, and Joyner hobbled, the Seawolves’ wins have relied on major contributions from some new faces.

Transfer Al Rapier is a versatile defender, but so far his offensive contributions have passed inspection as well. The junior forward is averaging 8.5 points per game and has made more than half his attempts from the field in every game this season. Throw in solid rebounding – Rapier is averaging seven boards per contest – and the Seawolves have another solid interchangeable part, something Pikiell’s squad has benefited from.

“I’ve been having to use Al up front because of Dallis – his ankle isn’t healed,” said Pikiell, again alluding to Dallis Joyner’s ankle injury, “so I’ve been playing [Rapier] at the 4 and 5 spot instead of the 3 spot.”

That ‘3’ spot is Brenton’s vacated small forward position and Rapier’s natural slot, something Pikiell is quick to point out. When asked who will eventually wind up manning the position, Pikiell replied, “At the end of the day, I think it’s going to be Al’s [Rapier] spot. He rebounds, really defends, and handles the ball well.

There are no formidable tests waiting in Stony Brook’s immediate future – a topic for another day – so the Seawolves are in position to tread water until Joyner’s ankle heals and Rouse returns. Until then, though, the roster situation may limit the Seawolves’ options to either winning ugly or not winning at all. Yesterday’s close win at Fairleigh Dickinson suggests Stony Brook is unlikely to start blowing out opponents any time soon.

But in the end, victory in any form cures all ills. As long as Pikiell’s vision of a contender begins to crystallize, both he and Stony Brook fans will take wins any way they come.