Junior guard Elijah Olaniyi dribbles the ball during a Men’s basketball game against UMBC on Saturday, Feb.1. The game ended with Olaniyi as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

This game was about more than basketball. 

A crowd of over 4,000 packed the nearly sold-out Island Federal Arena on Saturday, Feb. 1 as the Stony Brook men’s basketball team hosted its annual Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Night. The Seawolves (15-8, 6-2) each donned a jersey with the name of a Stony Brook Children’s Hospital patient on the back as they earned a 74-63 victory over the UMBC Retrievers (9-14, 2-6).

“It’s a great thing for our players to be a part of,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame interview. “We really look forward to it annually, and the hospital and our athletic department do an unbelievable job putting this together. It’s an opportunity to understand that there are families and young people who are battling and having legitimate adversity in their lives. Anything we can do to hopefully pick their spirits up.” 

The Seawolves had to play catchup initially, watching the Retrievers score the first four points of the game. A layup from redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman gave Stony Brook a 12-11 lead with 12:31 remaining in the first half, a lead that the home squad would not relinquish for the rest of the contest.

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Foreman’s bucket was part of a 20-7 run for Stony Brook, which allowed them to open up an 11-point lead, their largest of the first half. Freshman guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who earned his first career start on Saturday, drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 27-16 with 4:37 until the break.

UMBC scored nine of the final 12 points of the frame, closing the gap to 30-25 by halftime. The Retrievers hit on four of their last five field goals, while the Seawolves held a lead with their leading scorer, junior guard Elijah Olaniyi, limited to just two points on 0-for-4 shooting.

In the second half, UMBC got as close as within one on two separate occasions, but Stony Brook inevitably pulled away. Foreman hit a transition three from the left wing to get the lead back up to double digits 52-42, part of a sequence that saw the Seawolves make nine of their first 13 baskets (69%) to begin the half.

Stony Brook’s largest advantage of the night, 16 points, came after a Stephenson-Moore layup extended the lead to 62-46. The Seawolves didn’t convert a bucket for four minutes after, but the Retrievers’ hole had already been dug too deep and Stony Brook was able to walk away with the 11-point win.

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“I’ll give our guys credit because we are improving,” Ford said. “That being said, I don’t feel like we’ve played an elite-level game for us in a while. We haven’t found that Vermont magic quite recently. We were a little closer tonight.”

Despite his cold start, Olaniyi ended as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, 19 of them coming in the second half. Foreman had 18 on 6-for-18 shooting, including a trifecta of 3-pointers. Redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia added 12. The Retrievers had a pair of double-digit scorers, junior forward Dimitrije Spasojevic’s 17 and sophomore guard L.J. Owens’ 11.

The Seawolves trotted out a unique starting lineup for the second game in a row. Stephenson-Moore joined junior forward Mouhamadou Gueye, making his fifth start of the season. In last Wednesday’s game, Ford started Gueye alongside second-time starter junior guard Jordan McKenzie.

“We have had, going into tonight, six straight games where we trailed by seven points or more by the second media timeout,” Ford said. “You can’t do that and just assume you’re going to win. We’re just trying to experiment. The guys are still getting their same number of minutes. Miles [Latimer] has played great off the bench. Jeff Otchere has had two straight games where he’s had bigger rebounding numbers than what we were getting out of him earlier in the year.”

With eight games played, Stony Brook has reached the halfway point of conference play, having faced each team in the America East once already.

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“I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” Ford said. “We’ve shown that our best is good enough to beat one of the best teams in the league on their court. Our worst is low enough to get knocked off at home. The good news is our guys have confidence because the Vermont win gives us an internal belief that we can win a championship.”

The Seawolves will face the UMass Lowell River Hawks for the second time in three games when the two teams meet on Wednesday, Feb. 5. After Stony Brook won 84-76 in Lowell, Massachusetts last week, the series shifts to Long Island, with tip-off scheduled at 7 p.m. at Island Federal Arena.

“We were able to hurt them on the backboard,” Ford said. “I’m sure they’re going to really emphasize defensive rebounding. We didn’t shoot the ball well up there and we’re kind of due for a bust-out shooting game. We haven’t had one of those in a while. Hopefully, it’s Wednesday night because we’re going to need to do that a few times before the end of the year.”

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