The Stony Brook men’s basketball team knew what it was up against when it stepped onto the court to face the No. 9 Virginia Cavaliers on Wednesday, Dec. 19 in Charlottesville. Although the Seawolves (7-6) got to within four points of the defending national champions late in the second half, they dropped their third consecutive game as the Cavaliers (9-1) prevailed 56-44 in the two teams’ first-ever meeting.
“I thought our kids battled,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “We got off to a horrible start. We looked tentative, we looked kind of scared of the moment… The way we responded, we got back in the game, and with six [minutes] to go, we were right there. You have to play really perfect in that situation, and we didn’t.”
The Cavaliers entered the matchup with the strongest defense in the country, allowing a Division I-best 44.2 points per game and 32% opposing field goal percentage. On the other hand, their slow-tempo offense had yet to be effective, and Stony Brook could spring the monumental upset if they got hot from 3-point range. The Seawolves had only beaten one ranked opponent in program history – No. 13 Washington on Dec. 28, 2014 – and had never reigned victorious over an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team in eight tries.
Nevertheless, a 3-pointer courtesy of redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman with less than eight minutes remaining made it a four-point game as the Cavaliers clung on to a 40-36 lead. Just when it appeared as if the momentum had swung towards the side of Stony Brook, Virginia junior guard Tomas Woldetensae banked in his own 3-pointer to widen the lead back to seven on the ensuing possession.
“That three banks in, it almost feels like it’s worth nine,” Ford said. “Because you just don’t have a lot of possessions to make up for it.”
Junior forward Mouhamadou Gueye quickly responded with a slam dunk assisted by freshman guard Tavin Pierre Philippe to make it 43-38. Virginia held Stony Brook scoreless for nearly the next three minutes, growing their lead back to double digits before Ford called timeout. Sophomore guard Miles Latimer ended the drought when his layup brought the score to 49-40, but the Cavaliers scored on their next two possessions. Woldetensae buried another 3-pointer, this one putting the game away as Virginia went up 54-40 approaching the 3-minute mark. 7-foot redshirt-junior guard Jay Huff played a large role on both sides of the ball to secure the Cavaliers’ win.
Stony Brook managed to play an incredibly competitive game given how poorly the night had started for them. Eleven first-half turnovers served as self-inflicted wounds and Virginia capitalized with a hot offense in the first six minutes of the game. Sophomore guard Kody Stattman hit a deep ball with one second left on the shot clock to put the Cavaliers up 14-2 after he had already stripped junior center Jeff Otchere for an easy dunk minutes prior.
“We have consistently been pretty good with the ball,” Ford said. “For unknown reasons I couldn’t put my finger on, we had 20 turnovers against Hofstra, 20 turnovers against Providence, and then tonight at halftime we had 11.”
The Seawolves’ zone defense showed its effectiveness from there, holding the Cavaliers off the board for the next six and a half minutes while their offense began to cut away at the deficit. A 7-0 run made it 14-9, but Virginia scored the next six points and got their lead back up to double digits. The Cavaliers kept the Seawolves at arm’s length for the rest of the half until Latimer sunk a buzzer-beating three to enter break down 28-21.
Gueye was a star for the Seawolves on Wednesday night. Starting in place of Latimer, he was a force throughout the night, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and six blocks. In the second half, he found an open lane and dunked on one of two plays that earned him a spot on the SportsCenter Top 10. Gueye also drained a three that first cut Virginia’s lead to four.
Olaniyi led all Seawolves with 11 points. Stony Brook shot 38% from the floor, above Virginia’s average allowed, but couldn’t get it going from 3-point range (5-for-21). The Seawolves turned the ball over 17 times in a game where they knew possessions would be scarce.
“Some of the turnovers I can’t explain, like when you catch the ball and you’re standing out of bounds,” Ford said. “They didn’t move the line. That thing’s been there for years. You should not do that.”
Stony Brook completes the final game of the road trip on Saturday, Dec. 21 when they look to snap their three-game losing streak against the American Eagles. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C.