Stairway to Seven: Vermont Pushes Win Streak to Seven Straight
Stony Brook fought hard till the final whistle, but the Catamounts held tough coming off their prolonged absence and managed to secure the weekend sweep. After starting off the year 2-3, the Cats have now won seven straight and sit 9-3 on the year tied with UMBC for first place in the America East. Vermont and UMBC are set to square off for the America East regular season title in the coming days in what is sure to be one of the best mid-major match-ups of the year.
Before diving into the breakdown of each game, we do have the to address some notable America East news that broke right before Saturdays slate of games. The University of Maine men’s basketball team has decided to forgo the rest of the season and bow out entirely due to the on-going Covid cases continuing to sweep across the nation. Maine is not the only team to recuse themselves from finishing the year and they likely won’t be the last. Vermont fans are likely well aware of the women’s team announcing that they also would be ending their season prematurely, along with the entire Ivy league conference canceling their seasons before the year even started. Hopefully every school and NCAA is taking extra precautions, as the last thing we want to see is teams continue to drop out, but at the same time it’s completely understandable to recognize why these schools are playing it safe.
Back to the game(s) – credit to Geno Ford and the Seawolves for playing hard until the final whistle. Both games saw the Cats build leads of 10+ in the second half, but Stony Brook kept grinding and wouldn’t conceive victory to the Cats. The Seawolves are definitely a longshot to win the America East title, but even in defeat this team showed plenty of resiliency and is going to be a tough out come playoff time. Let’s dive into the stat sheet and see how each of these games unfolded.
Saturday| Game One
Telling Stats and Notes – Vermont Catamounts
Stef Smith – 22 points, 7-12 shooting, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 turnover
Ryan Davis – 21 points, 7-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover
Team – 86 points, 29-50 FG, 8-19 3PT, 31 rebounds, 17 assists, 6 turnovers
“Expect a vintage Stef Smith performance this weekend” –
ESPN journalist with years of knowledge me. Burlington’s scoop king quieted the haters with a great weekend outing that began with a 22-point performance to lead all scorers Saturday afternoon. Smith has been inconsistent at times this season, but this type of display was what we’ve really come to know and expect from the senior captain. There’s no question that Davis is the focal point of offense for the Cats, but with Smith back in form the Cats have tremendous 1A and 1B options. Even if teams find a way to deny Davis and Smith the Cats are arguably the deepest team in the conference, as we’ve seen the likes of Powell, Mazzulla, Murphy, Shungu and even Patella all step up at times and help carry the team. The Cats are hot and quickly becoming a pick your poison-esque team.
For as good as Smith was on Saturday, Ryan Davis was just as influential on the Cats victory. The big man recorded his third double-double of the year and fifth game of 20+ points. The biggest highlight of the game came when Davis pumped fake his man at the top of the key, blowing past him to hammer home a thunderous and-1 dunk. It’s probably a good thing that fans aren’t allowed to attend the games, as that dunk would’ve sent all of Patrick Gym into an absolute frenzy. Anything can happen, but right now it looks like Davis is all but a lock to take home the America East Player of the Year hardware, as his tumultuous dunk off this signature performance has officially put the rest of the America East on notice.
Even with Davis and Smith both showcasing their abilities throughout the game, Vermont got key contributions elsewhere as three other Catamounts (Shungu, Mazzulla and Patella) would all eclipse the double-digit scoring mark. Stony Brook also matched Vermont with five players scoring in double figures, but no Seawolf was able to match Davis or Smiths level of production.
Telling Stats and Notes – Stony Brook Seawolves
Jayden Sayles – 16 points, 6-9 shooting (nice), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers
Omar Habwe – 15 points, 5-9 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers
Team – 78 points, 28-64 FG, 8-23 3PT, 31 rebounds, 15 assists, 5 turnovers
Sayles and Hawbe lead the way for the Seawolves, yet it was a complete team effort that kept them within striking distance of Vermont throughout this contest. Three other Seawolves (Gueye, Rodriguez and Policelli) broke the double-digit scoring mark and Tykei Greene almost made it six as he finished with 8 points himself.
If you compare team stat lines (excluding score) you might think that it was Stony Brook who constantly led throughout and controlled the game. The Seawolves took more shots, committed fewer turnovers, finished perfect from the charity stripe (14-14) and were essentially neck-and-neck with the Cats in terms of rebounding and assists. Yet, if you watched the game you saw Vermont as the team in control. Even when Stony Brook would go on a quick run to cut the lead, Vermont answered right back, keeping the Seawolves at bay. Just remember that stats don’t always tell the whole story.
As expected, both teams gave extensive minutes to their core players, keeping the rotation around eight. Geno Ford has primarily had to stick with a 8-9 man rotation most games and with the Seawolves hanging around all game it made sense that he’d stick to script. As for Vermont, they definitely have the depth to comfortably go 10 deep on any given night, though coming off a prolonged pause it made sense that John Becker would look to get his core group of guys some extra floor time to help shake off any cobwebs.
Sunday | Game Two
Telling Stats and Notes – Vermont Catamounts
Tomas Murphy – 17 points, 5-10 shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers
Stef Smith – 15 points, 6-12 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers
Team – 61 points, 21-59 FG, 10-26 3PT, 40 rebounds, 12 assists, 12 turnovers
Sheeeeesh Tomas Murphy with the flamethrower from deep in this one. The big man would hit five straight from beyond the arc before finishing 5-7 from deep, as those final two misses proved that he was in fact human. The 17 points were a season high for Murphy and even though the big man would only play a total of 20 minutes over the weekend he looks like an absolute threat off the bench for the Cats. Having someone of Murphy’s caliber as your 6th or 7th man off the bench is a huge luxury, as his production as of late should help cement Vermont as the favorites out of the America East moving forward.
Coming off a vintage 22 point performance less than 24 hours ago, Stef Smith was going to have some extra sets of eyes keyed in on him in this one. We know just how dangerous Smith can be, yet he’s had trouble consistently producing game in and game out. However, Smith came out just as effective as he was in game one, this time showing off his chops as a true playmaker for the Cats. Smith paced the Cats in both rebounding (7) and assists (4) and appears to have regained his form as one of the best guards in the America East. With UMBC and the America East playoffs looming it might be time to unleash braided-hair Smith.
Telling Stats and Notes – Stony Brook Seawolves
Juan Felix Rodriguez – 24 points, 8-16 shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover
Mo Gueye – 9 points, 1-5 shooting, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 turnovers
Team – 57 points, 17-53 FG, 5-21 3PT, 42 rebounds, 5 assists, 12 turnovers
Stony Brook once again found themselves in the thick of things with Vermont late. Rodriguez played a huge part in keeping the Seawolves within striking distance, as his 24 points on the afternoon was a season-high for the JUCO transfer. While 9 of the 10 Stony Brook players to make it on the court would score at least 3 points, no other Seawolf could eclipse the double-digit scoring mark. Game one saw both teams seemingly score at will in the second half with stops on the defensive end a rarity, while game two was a reversal of sorts, with each team locking down defensively and fighting tooth and nail for a bucket on the other end.
Again, Geno Ford deserves a lot of credit for getting his guys to play right down to that final whistle in both contests. Obviously, they didn’t get the results they were hoping for, but considering that Vermont would go up 10+ in the second half of both these games with Stony Brook refusing to yield is testament to the resiliency of this team. Stony Brook could’ve easily accepted that Vermont was the superior team and coasted out the rest of the game, but they hung tough. The Seawolves had A LOT of turnover last offseason, but if they can keep this core together and maybe add another piece or two there’s going to be plenty of optimism in Long Island.
As of right now Stony Brook does have one final series against Albany left to play before the America East playoffs commence. Currently those teams are in 6th (Albany) and 8th (Stony Brook) in the America East standings. There is some relevancy for this match-up in terms of playoff seeding though factoring in rest and not tipping your hand should hold more conviction for both teams in this one. As mentioned, it’s a quick turnaround for Vermont, as they travel down to Baltimore to take on UMBC Thursday and Friday night. Those games are in fact very important and every college basketball fan should be paying close attention as to how that series unfolds.