Stony Brook Men’s Basketball has not had the best of luck when playing Albany in the America East Conference Tournament. The Great Danes ended the Seawolves’ season in the playoffs for three straight years, beginning in the 2012-13 season, and knocked them out last season in the semifinals by a final of 63-56.
Saturday night, Stony Brook has a chance to flip the script.
“Our energy for the past six games has been just through the roof,” senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant said. “So, if we just continue to compete and rebound, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Seawolves played against the Great Danes twice this regular season, both games resulting in close losses for the team. However, head coach Jeff Boals knows that his team has changed since its last meeting with Albany back on Jan. 27.
Boals made a change in the lineup on Feb. 3 against Hartford. The original starting lineup included junior guard Jaron Cornish, senior guard UC Iroegbu, redshirt-sophomore forward Akwasi Yeboah, senior forward Junior Saintel and Sturdivant. That night, Boals went with a younger core to start the game, and the lineup hasn’t changed since.
“When we started this run, we made a change in the lineup with [freshman guard Jordan McKenzie, freshman forwards Elijah Olaniyi and Anthony Ochefu] and brought [Iroegbu, Sturdivant and Cornish] off the bench,” Boals said. “Those guys handled it the right way. They kept working hard and they’ve been a big reason why we won our last four of six. They hit their free throws, made big defensive stops. Those guys don’t want to stop playing.”
Sturdivant and his fellow seniors are conscious of the fact that this is the last time they will take part in the America East Conference Tournament, with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. The forward knows what it takes to win the conference, as he was a part of the 2015-16 team that took down Vermont to clinch its first ever conference championship.
“This place is always going to have a special place in my heart,” Sturdivant reflected. “I made history here, making the first ever NCAA tournament. I just have a lot of great memories here, a lot of game winners, lots of charges. It’ll be a great memory to have, raising another banner up there.”
In order to raise another banner, the Seawolves must first make it past their in-state rivals. Unfortunately, the team may not be fully healthy. Iroegbu sprained his ankle in last Saturday’s home loss to Vermont, and has not practiced all week, Boals confirmed. It is still unclear if the senior will lace up against the Great Danes.
Albany may not be at full strength as well. Graduate forward Travis Charles suffered a knee sprain in a game last Saturday and sat out Albany’s regular-season finale on Tuesday night. Head coach Will Brown said that the injury is “not good” and that Charles is “highly, highly, highly questionable,” according to The Daily Gazette.
Regardless, Boals and the Seawolves are prepared for anything.
“We’re expecting him to play,” Boals said. “He might be their most valuable player in the sense that he can make shots, rebound the ball and defend so well. In the few games we played against them, [Yeboah] has gotten into foul trouble, which hurt us, and [Yeboah] was the one guarding him.”
Yeboah has had his difficulties with foul trouble this season, recording four or more fouls in four conference games and averaging 6.5 points per game in those games. If Yeboah gets into foul trouble, someone will need to step up into his place.
Fortunately, the Seawolves may have their man for the job.
Olaniyi, recently named America East Rookie of the Year, has stepped up for Stony Brook during its late season surge. Despite this being his first conference tournament, the freshman is prepared to go into the game Saturday night without any nerves.
“Coming from a competitive high school, I know what it takes to win,” Olaniyi said. “I know I have to bump my game up to the next tier. As far as nerves go, I don’t really have any. I’m just gonna address it like another game that I know we have to win.”
Stony Brook will look to exact revenge against Albany Saturday night at the State Employees Federal Credit Union Arena. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.