Despite being surprisingly absent from his usual place in the starting lineup, junior forward Elijah Olaniyi set new career highs as the Stony Brook men’s basketball team overcame an early deficit to blow by the Brown Bears (5-4) by a final score of 79-63, improving to 7-3 having won seven of their last eight games.
“We played at a high level,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “If you make 14 threes, the offense is going to look good, but we had 22 assists for 28 baskets, so I thought our guys were unselfish. I thought we really played the right way. That was an elite offensive performance for where we are in the season right now.”
Olaniyi, who was sidelined during the last two days of practice as a result of a significant neck strain, entered three minutes into the game and ended the night with a career-high 30 points, including a career-high of six three-pointers. His previous best was 28 against Hartford on Feb. 2, 2019. He also added a team-high seven rebounds.
“Coming into this game, I actually was a little defeated because it was bad timing and I was upset with myself, but when the trainers told me I had an opportunity to play, half of it was mental,” Olaniyi said in a postgame press conference. “I think the biggest thing is that mentally, I was prepared and ready.”
“I didn’t know he would play that well to have a career game like that,” Ford said, praising his toughness. “But I knew he would fly around and find a way to help us because that’s who he is.”
Olaniyi made an instant impact coming off the bench, draining a three to put the Seawolves on top by one. When Brown junior forward Tamenang Choh gave the Bears a 4-point lead following a three and a layup, Olaniyi connected again from deep to cut the deficit to one.
Brown raced out to a double-digit 20-10 lead as Stony Brook was held scoreless throughout a two-and-a-half minute stretch, prompting Ford to call a timeout with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. From there, the Seawolves got right back into the game, feasting off layups from Olaniyi and junior forward Anthony Ochefu as well as Olaniyi’s third three of the night. Junior guard Jordan McKenzie, who entered Saturday averaging 1.3 points per game, tied the score at 20 with a three to cap off a 10-0 run where the Bears were kept off the board for over six minutes.
“The first eight minutes we couldn’t get them guarded,” Ford said. “The last 32 minutes, I thought we were terrific defensively. For 32 minutes, it was as complete of a game as we were capable of playing.”
Stony Brook began to take control towards the end of the first half, with Brown head coach Mike Martin calling a timeout after Olaniyi made a three from the right wing to put the Seawolves up by four. They would enter the break with a 33-27 lead, with Olaniyi accounting for 15 on 5-for-7 shooting and four of those made shots coming from beyond the arc.
The Seawolves would not relent coming out of halftime. The offensive simply caught fire, shooting 64% (18-for-28) in the second half and going 7-for-10 from three-point range. Fittingly, it was Olaniyi who kicked off the scoring in the period with his fifth three of the night. With 16:36 remaining, redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia drilled a corner three to give Stony Brook a double-digit lead, and Brown never got the deficit closer than nine for the rest of the game.
“I’m going to give some guys off the bench credit,” Ford said. “We’ve talked about how we need our depth to get better. Tonight, Jordan McKenzie, Anthony Ochefu, Tavin [Pierre Philippe] all went in and were significantly impactful in the game with their effort on defense. It may not always show up in the points column, but those three guys really helped us turn the tide defensively.”
Olaniyi’s sixth three gave Stony Brook a 14-point lead with 9:29 left, which grew to as large as 20 points at the 5-minute mark. He would not score again until the final basket of the game. McKenzie fed it to Olaniyi off the fast break, who emphatically dunked the ball in as he crossed the 30-point barrier in the game’s waning moments.
“I pretty much go out there and do whatever my team needs me to do,” Olaniyi said. “Tonight, it just happened that I had the hot hand and could lead the team offensively.”
Not to be overshadowed was redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman’s performance, as he scored 17 and shot 4-for-9 from downtown, or junior forward Mouhamadou Gueye, who turned in seven assists and three blocks. Choh led all Brown players with 19 points, while senior guard Brandon Anderson was held to just 13 points after averaging 21.6 before tonight.
The offensive explosion came at a crucial moment for the Seawolves. Shooting 53% from the floor and 56% from three on the night, Stony Brook needed to nab both wins during this week’s two-game homestand as they prepare for the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule.
The team plays their next four games on the road, with opponents ranging from the always-tough rival Hofstra, to Big East foe Providence to defending national champions Virginia. The 2019 edition of The Battle of Long Island kicks things off, as the Seawolves travel to Nassau County on Tuesday, Dec. 10 to face the Pride in a series that Suffolk County has not won since 2015.
Time for the Seawolves to turn some heads.
“We have a chance to go earn some respect right here,” Olaniyi said. “In years past, I don’t feel like anybody respects us. We know the talent we have in our locker room, but I don’t feel like other teams know. This is a great opportunity to show that.”