With five straight losses, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team was in its worst streak of the season. A key factor in several of those losses was halftime buzzer-beaters. Both Albany and UMBC hit big shots at the horn to end the half, and used the momentum to take down Stony Brook in the second half.
It was only fitting that the Seawolves would have that same stroke of luck at some point.
“I think as many shots we missed in the last five games, we were due for a bounce like that,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “I told [senior guard UC Iroegbu] that when he shot it, it looked like it was going in the tuba section. Thankfully that backboard was there.”
Iroegbu banked home a three-fourths court shot at the end of the first half, and the Seawolves used that shot to coast to an 81-68 victory over the UMass Lowell River Hawks on Thursday night at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
Stony Brook took a 16-point lead into halftime, with senior forward Jakub Petras leading the offensive charge. Petras scored six straight points in the midst of a 12-2 Stony Brook run in the first half. His efforts pushed the lead to double digits after leading 17-14 with nine minutes remaining in the half.
Petras went on to have a career night, as the senior posted a career-high of 16 points and four steals. Three of the steals came during his six-point streak.
“We were just trying to find the open man,” Petras said. “We moved the ball well, and I think that helped us today. As a whole collective, the effort was there, too. We just played inside-out.”
The Seawolves started their young lineup for the second straight game, with freshman guard Jordan McKenzie, forwards Elijah Olaniyi and Anthony Ochefu and redshirt-sophomore forward Akwasi Yeboah rounding out the young group. Senior forward Junior Saintel was the only upperclassman to start.
“We were getting off to bad starts, so coach kind of wanted to mix up the lineups and see what lineup would help us get off to good starts,” Iroegbu said. “I think definitely having some veterans coming off the bench allows us to get some good production off the bench and keep the momentum going.”
Boals reiterated that his players are accepting of whatever role he asks them to perform in, and that he is also going to stick with what’s working right now.
“Those guys have earned it,” Boals said. “For about two and a half weeks, our white team, which is made up of predominantly freshmen, have been beating those guys in drills. [Senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant] and [Iroegbu] both took it well. We’ll stay with it, because I think one of the biggest strengths of this team is our depth. I thought [the freshmen] were a big part of our start today.”
The Seawolves knew coming into Thursday night’s game that it was, in a sense, a must-win affair. Their five-game losing streak sent them spiraling down the conference standings to sixth place, so a win here would help inch the team back into the standings.
At this point, the idea of playoffs and home-court advantage in the America East tournament is not a priority for Stony Brook. The mentality is now simple: focus on the fundamentals and take it one game at a time.
“On Monday, it was like summer basketball camp,” Boals said. “We had stations, we rotated our guys, had free throw and regular shooting stations, passing stations and kind of just went back to the basics like it was day one. We’re gonna do this again, and see how it goes.”
With three of its next four games on the road, the team is aware of how important this stretch of games is. Winning the next three road games would bolster their conference record to 7-7, giving them an opportunity to clinch a home game in the playoffs.
However, the focus for the Seawolves is still to take one game at a time.
“It’s just basketball, you gotta do what you gotta do,” Iroegbu said. “Come into each game with the same mentality, try and win every game whether it’s on the road or at home.”
Stony Brook will hit the road to take on Maine on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center.