Having conceded first place in the America East after Wednesday’s loss to Hartford, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team reclaimed the top spot in the conference on Saturday, Jan. 18. Stony Brook (13-7, 4-1) rebounded from a close road defeat with a 70-62 victory over the Albany Great Danes (10-9, 3-1) at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena, snapping its opponent’s 4-game win streak in the process. It was the first time that the Seawolves had won the rivalry matchup on Long Island since 2017 — when Stony Brook ended the game on a 21-0 run to eke out a 2-point victory.
“I liked our offense in the second half,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “I thought our defense was solid throughout. [Albany’s] got a lot of firepower.”
Junior guard Elijah Olaniyi became the 10th player in Stony Brook’s Division I history to score 1,000 points after a jumper with 12:51 in the first half cut the Seawolves’ deficit to four. Island Federal Arena cheered in honor of his milestone as the Newark native entered the matchup four points shy of quadruple figures. The last player to do so was Akwasi Yeboah on Dec. 12, 2018.
“The 1,000 actually meant a lot because I didn’t score 1,000 in high school,” Olaniyi said in a postgame press conference. “It’s gratifying that all my hard work is paying off … To beat Albany, that’s even better.”
The two longtime rivals went head-to-head in the first half, as the Great Danes jumped out to a quick 7-point lead six minutes into the game. Albany started the game 4-for-5 from the floor and 3-for-4 from downtown. A pair of 3-pointers — the first from Olaniyi and the second from redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman — put the Seawolves back on top, 15-13.
Albany grabbed the lead back with seven unanswered points, but it was Stony Brook who held an advantage for good after redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia drove into the paint for a layup and was left open for a corner three on the next possession. The Seawolves’ lead grew as large as six points in the first half, but the Great Danes were able to whittle it down to three by the break with Stony Brook up 30-27.
“Give [Albany] a lot of credit in the first half,” Ford said. “We were in no rhythm offensively. Their physicality, [their] switching — they made it hard on us to get in any kind of rhythm. I thought their offense at times was very patient, which resulted in some longer defensive possessions.”
The Seawolves came out of halftime ready to fire the long ball. Garcia and sophomore guard Miles Latimer both connected on triples to extend Stony Brook’s lead to nine just a minute and a half in, prompting Albany head coach Will Brown to immediately call a timeout. Both Foreman and Garcia picked up three fouls midway through the second half, but it did not slow the Seawolves down. Brown used his second timeout after Latimer dished it to Olaniyi, who drained a corner three to give Stony Brook an 11-point advantage, 54-43.
“Coach always tells us to not speed ourselves up,” Garcia said in a postgame interview. “In the first half, we had three assists, but with us passing the ball in the second half, we had eight. I just try to find the open man, rebound, do as much as possible.”
Albany was able to get within six at the 6-minute mark, but it seemed as if Stony Brook had a response for every bucket, taking its largest lead of the night at 13 four minutes later. Olaniyi capped off his memorable night with a steal on the inbound taken back for a fast break dunk.
After shooting 36% in the loss at Hartford, Stony Brook shot 56% (27-for-49), including a clutch 64% in the second half. The Seawolves attempted just 16 threes but converted on half of them. It was another disappointing night from the line, however, making eight of 17 free throws (47%).
“This is the first time in a while I’ve been disappointed in our defense,” Brown said in a postgame press conference. “We didn’t make shots with 16 turnovers, and we still had a chance. Stony Brook’s good … Geno does a good job with them. He allows those guys to play to their strengths.”
Despite Stony Brook’s return to the number one spot in the standings, Brown isn’t ready to crown them yet.
“Not to upset anyone in here that wears red, but I think Vermont is the best team in the league,” Brown said. “Until someone knocks them off of where they are and where they’ve been, they’re the best team.”
Olaniyi and Garcia both finished as the team’s leading scorers, racking up 20 points each. Olaniyi added in 11 rebounds to notch his fourth consecutive double-double. Saturday’s performance was his fourth straight 20-point game and his sixth out of the last seven, and he is now the team leader in both points (19.3) and rebounds (6.9) per game.
“His level of practice in the offseason — dedicating himself to become a better shooter and dribbler — has really paid off,” Ford said.
Stony Brook will look to maintain its spot atop the America East on Wednesday, Jan. 22 when the Seawolves take on the Binghamton Bearcats (7-10, 1-3). Although Stony Brook crushed Binghamton in both their regular-season matchups, it was a devastating upset by the hands of a 9-win Bearcats team in the America East quarterfinals that ended the Seawolves’ NCAA Tournament dreams. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena.