The layup attempt struck the front of the rim and bounced high into the air — an instant that felt like an hour — as the Seawolves crowd inhaled all the oxygen from the building.
Unfortunately for Stony Brook, the ball dropped straight into the basket, giving Loyola a last-second lead and a 71-70 victory on Wednesday night at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
“It was definitely an emotional game,” junior forward Tyrell Sturdivant said. “It was our first home game in a while. It’s always good to play in front of the home fans. We just didn’t get stops when we needed to.”
With 1:06 left in the game, Stony Brook senior guard Kameron Mitchell made a pair of free throws to give Stony Brook a 66-65 lead. Then with seven seconds left, he buried two more — “big-time shots,” head coach Jeff Boals said — making the score 70-69 in the Seawolves’ favor.
Loyola took possession, trailing by one point. Junior guard Andre Walker, the Greyhounds’ top scorer this season, took the ball. Mitchell ran step-by-step with him, defending him the full length of the court.
After a pass and retrieval, Walker drove hard past Mitchell, and was met by Sturdivant, who stood with his hands up underneath the basket. Walker was forced into an awkward release, but the ball ricocheted in regardless.
For Walker, a Westbury native, his return to Long Island was an unwelcome one, as he scored 24 points to lead all players in the game.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Boals said. “It’s kind of disappointing, we just talked about this two days ago. Every ‘best player’ that we’ve played all year long has gotten their average [in scoring].”
The fateful ending seemed like a repeat of Stony Brook’s home opener, in which Columbia sealed the game late on a closely guarded shot.
“If you look back at the Columbia game, the kid hit a double-clutch shot from 25 feet,” Boals said. “I don’t know if we’re a bad luck magnet … but what I tell these guys from day one: our margin for error is not very big.”
After some early shooting woes, Stony Brook ended its first half on a 13-0 stretch, capped off with a pair of three-pointers by junior guards Bryan Sekunda and U.C. Iroegbu, to take a 35-33 lead after 20 minutes.
The run proved momentous, as the Seawolves extended their lead to seven points on three occasions in the second half.
But Loyola fought back, taking a 64-62 lead when junior guard Chancellor Barnard — who Boals said “[hadn’t] hit a shot from beyond three feet all year” — hit a shot from beyond three feet, a jumper from the elbow. In the next 2:07, spanning from that play to the final buzzer, there were seven lead changes, the last of which won Loyola the game.
With so many changes of lead so late in the game, every shot seemed huge. With 1:48 left to play, junior forward Junior Saintel tipped in a missed layup, Stony Brook’s 13th offensive rebound of the contest.
“I wish we weren’t a great offensive rebounding team,” Boals said, deadpan. “That would mean we made more shots.”
Sturdivant scored 18 points, the most on Stony Brook, as he continues to lead the team in points this season.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said. “And my teammates have confidence in me. I’ve just tried to play physical and play hard.”
On Saturday, Stony Brook will host Northeastern, who fell to 4-3 after losing to Cornell on Wednesday. When the two teams faced last season in Boston, Northeastern defeated Stony Brook, 75-62.