CHARLESTON — Whether you consider the plane flight to Long Island, N.Y., a joy ride or a burdensome journey is not the point.
“Anymore with kids playing AAU I don’t think the long trips have the effect they did in the past,” Eastern Illinois men’s basketball coach Jay Spoonhour said. “It isn’t going to be the travel that makes it tough. It’s that Stony Brook is very good.”
Most college basketball fans are now aware of Stony Brook’s Seawolves who won last year’s America East Conference regular season championship and stand 5-2 going into today’s 1 p.m. CST game against the 3-5 Panthers at Stony Brook, N.Y.
With losses of 73-62 to Connecticut and 64-62 at home to Sacred Heart, Stony Brook on Wednesday beat Cornell 76-53 giving coach Steve Pikiell his 100th win in his eighth year with the Seawolves.
Jumping out from Stony Brook’s statistics includes the fact the Seawolves have made more free throws, 117 in 157 tries, than their opponents have attempted, 100 making 70.
“That’s what we all want to do,” Spoonhour said. “I remember Bob Knight teams used to make twice as many free throws as their opponents shot. We’ve been getting to the line; we just don’t make them. They’re fouling the wrong guys.”
Under 70 percent in its last seven games since making 12 of 16 free throws in a season-opening loss at Bradley, Eastern now has a .573 season free-throw percentage.
The Panthers shot less than 40 percent from the field in four of their first six games but have warmed up to a .524 game when beating Houston Baptist 64-44 and then .482 in Wednesday’s 74-72 loss to Central Arkansas State putting their season percentage at .425.
That could get challenged today against a Stony Brook defense that has limited opponents to .379 field-goal shooting.
Stony Brook is shooting .417 from the field led by 6-foot-8 freshman Jameel Warney’s .604 percentage while the Plainfield, N.J., product averages 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.
“Warney’s numbers don’t say it all,” Spoonhour said. “He will block shots. He is a big part of the reason why teams are shooting 35 percent against them.”
Leading Stony Brook’s scoring is junior Anthony Jackson, who has gone from last season’s backup point guard to averaging 13.4 points.
“Jackson is a point guard who can shoot it and he gets to the line and shoots well there,” Spoonhour said. “It’s another of those games where we have to keep them out of the paint.”
So this might be an even better Stony Brook team than last season’s America East champion that last season lost to a 72-69 team Eastern, which was depleted by graduation and transfers.
“They’ve built that program,” Spoonhour said. “It was about six or seven years ago in the boat where we are now.
“We had a good practice (Thursday). It’s the same old deal. We’ve got a really hard stretch and they realize that.”
EASTERN ILLINOIS (3-5) AT STONY BROOK (5-2)
Tip-off: 1 p.m. CST today at Pritchard Gym in Stony Brook, N.Y.
Radio: WEIU Hit Mix 88.9 FM
Probable Eastern Illinois starters: forwards - Sherman Blanford, 6-6 jr. (10.9 points, 5.5 rebounds per game); Josh Piper, 6-8 so. (11.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg); guards - Austin Akers, 6-2 sr. (4.9 ppg, 2.6 rebounds); Taylor Jones, 6-2, sr. (3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Morris Woods, 6-3 jr. (9.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Probable Stony Brook starters: forwards – Eric McAlister, 6-8 jr. (4.6 points, 4. 3 rebounds per game); Tommy Brenton, 6-5 sr. (8.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Jameel Warney, 6-8 fr. (11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg); guards – Anthony Jackson, 6-0 jr. (13.4 ppg, 1. rpg); Dave Coley, 6-2, jr. (11.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Notes: Jeremy Granger scored 25 points, Zavier Sanders 16 and Joey Miller 13 for Eastern in last season’s game when the Panthers rallied from 12 points behind for a 72-69 win over Stony Brook at Charleston. . .Eastern has two home games next week facing Western Illinois at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Toledo at 6 p.m. Saturday.
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