The Stony Brook men’s basketball team knew that their non-conference schedule would challenge them. On Sunday, Dec. 29, Stony Brook (9-6) returned to Island Federal Arena for the first time in over three weeks, reigning victorious 81-65 over the Norfolk State Spartans (4-11) to head into America East play owners of a two-game winning streak.
“There’s two ways you can schedule non-conference,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “You can play some easier games and pad your record, or you have the opportunity to go out and challenge yourself, which I think we’ve really done. We’ve played a lot of good teams that are going to be in the postseason, so hopefully it’s going to pay off for us. We’re not going to find out until March, because that’s the reality of our business, but I feel good right now that we haven’t had easy games.”
Although the Seawolves led the entire game, the Spartans were initially able to stay within arms’ reach as Stony Brook struggled with turnovers and finishing layups. Norfolk State, who trailed the entire game, saw their smallest deficit of the game – one point – less than eight minutes in, but shot themselves in the foot with numerous missed free throws and turnovers of their own.
The Stony Brook offense eventually caught fire behind the hot 3-point shooting of redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman. The Chattanooga transfer attempted three straight long balls within a 58-second span, making all three of them to help the Seawolves go up 22-14 and prompting a timeout call from Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones.
Foreman ignited the spark that started the Seawolves’ offensive explosion, and junior guard Elijah Olaniyi helped carry it. Olaniyi got the hoop and the harm on two consecutive possessions, completing the three-point play on both occasions. Then, he scored three points the more traditional way – draining a trey from the left wing to score nine in a row for the Seawolves.
Stony Brook entered the half up 37-17, closing things out on a 21-3 run. Norfolk State shot 6-for-25 (24%) in the opening 20 minutes, including 1-for-9 from three as well as 4-for-10 from the free throw line. The Seawolves turned the ball over 11 times, but the Spartans’ 10 turnovers were not much better.
“We’ve got to get the turnovers under control,” Ford said. “Overall, 17 is too many in a ballgame.”
The second half saw improved offensive performances from both sides. Stony Brook held a 24-point lead, their largest of the entire game, with 14:40 remaining after sophomore guard Miles Latimer hit back-to-back threes to go up 53-29.
The Spartans would not go away easily, as they found their 3-point stroke and were able to cut the deficit down to as little as 12. Freshman guard/forward Tyrese Jenkins stripped Latimer and made the dunk in the fast break, making it 67-55 with six minutes left in the game. However, he was called for a technical foul. Foreman hit the free throw and redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia drew a foul on the possession to go back up 15; he had 12 points in the second half.
“Once you have Elijah and Makale getting hot, normally the defense wants to focus on those two players and try to take away what they got,” Garcia said in a postgame press conference. “Those two players are our best scorers, and teams scout for both of them, so when they get hot, it’s normal for them to get double-teamed or more pressured. It just helped me throughout the game.”
The Spartans shot 52% from the floor in the second half and went 6-for-14 from deep, helping them almost triple their first-half scoring numbers. The Seawolves’ offense fired on all cylinders throughout the entire game, with a field goal percentage of 46% on the afternoon that included shooting 44% from 3-point range.
Olaniyi led all players with 20 points while also finishing with seven boards and seven assists. He was one of four Seawolves to score in double digits, as Garcia ended with 18, Foreman had 16 and Latimer scored 11.
“I think we’re in a good spot [entering conference play],” Garcia said. “We want it so badly. Coach Ford really implements toughness, and we put that as our first key of the game.”
The Seawolves begin America East conference play with two straight road games. The first comes against the Maine Black Bears, whom Stony Brook swept last year. The Black Bears are currently 3-10, losers of four straight. Tip-off is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 5 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.