Junior forward Tyrell Sturdivant drives to the basket in a game against Vermont on Jan. 28. SAMANTHA MONTES/THE STATESMAN
Junior forward Tyrell Sturdivant drives to the basket in a game against Vermont on Jan. 28. Sturdivant has become a leader for the Seawolves during the 2016-17 season.  SAMANTHA MONTES/THE STATESMAN

When Stony Brook junior forward Tyrell Sturdivant floated in the game-winning layup to cap a 21-0 run in the men’s basketball team’s Jan. 8 defeat of conference rival Albany, his hard work had been realized.

He had already established himself as one of the main options in the offense — scoring 10 or more points in eight of his first 14 games of the season — but this was different. This was the single largest comeback victory in program history. In fact, it was the third largest comeback in NCAA Division I history with less than 10 minutes left in the game.  

“Growing up you always think of taking the last shot, being the guy in those clutch situations. I just embrace that,” Sturdivant said. “When I take a shot, I tell myself the moment is never too big for me.”

The shot serves as a testament to the dedication and hard work he put in during the offseason to prepare for what has been his breakout season with the Seawolves.

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Sturdivant went from 252 pounds in the spring to 225 at the start of fall practice before the 2016-17 season. He changed his diet completely and did “extra conditioning every morning and after practice” during the summer. 

After averaging 11 minutes in a bench role behind Seawolves legend Jameel Warney last season, Sturdivant has taken command of the frontcourt in his place. He is averaging career highs of 12 points, six rebounds and 49 percent shooting from the field.

His former teammate and current member of the NBA D-League Texas Legends came to Stony Brook to work out with Sturdivant over the summer and they battled it out just as they had when they matched up at practice last season.

“We shot early, we ran early,” Warney said. “We were in the gym 2 or 3 times a day in the summer time. He really built himself up for this season.”

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“I think it really helped his stamina,” head coach Jeff Boals said of the training and weight loss. “Last year he only went in there when Jameel or [Rayshaun McGrew] needed a break or they were in foul trouble. The role that we needed him to play this year was completely different from last year. He knows we’re gonna go to him.”

Since the start of America East play, Sturdivant is shooting 64 percent in eight games, averaging 15.3 points per game. He has also made a habit of having explosive second halves despite slow starts to games. This was on display in his 15 point second half against New Hampshire on Jan. 5 and against Albany when he capped off the 21-0 comeback.

“It’s funny, I call myself the microwave. I heat up real quick,” Sturdivant said.

He has become the go-to guy inside the paint for Stony Brook and also has found chemistry with teammate and senior guard Lucas Woodhouse. Sturdivant likes how easy it is for Woodhouse to set him up for a post-up situation, his confidence and the competitive nature he brings to the team.

“He’s got a great knack for scoring and rebounding. Playing with a guy like that just makes the game easier,” Woodhouse said. “You can count on him to make a big play down the stretch which is important for us because we have been in a lot of really close games and he has been a big reason why we have been winning.”

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Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell — head coach of Stony Brook the previous 11 seasons — saw the potential in Sturdivant from the start, even if his ability was unable to be realized due to Stony Brook’s depth.

“I saw this all last year,” Pikiell said in a telephone interview. “He’s really good but he just so happened to play behind the best play to ever play at the school. He showed signs of it, everyday in practice he was battling against Jameel. This was that year to get that opportunity.”

Sturdivant took the offseason to prepare to take advantage of the void left by Warney’s graduation in the paint. Observing Sturdivant’s improved physical condition and newfound confidence, Boals was ready to entrust a large part of the team’s offense with him.

“He’s gotten a lot more comfortable, he knows the plays and he knows where he needs to be on the floor to get the ball,” Boals said. “That is sort of reflective of his 70 percent shooting that he is shooting now [in conference play].”

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