Vermont redshirt-senior guard Everett Duncan was given hell all night by a relentless contingent of Stony Brook fans. On numerous occasions, he looked back into the sold out crowd to stare down the jeerers.
So when Duncan hit a trifecta of 3-pointers over a two and a half minute span to put his team up by 12 points with under two minutes remaining in the game, he made sure to glare at the same people who had harassed him for hours — this time, with a smirk on his face.
A month and a half ago, it seemed as if the Stony Brook men’s basketball team was in line to closely contest for the America East regular season title after knocking off the Catamounts in Burlington. Flip the calendar to now and Stony Brook (17-10, 8-4) has been effectively eliminated from contention after a 63-54 loss on Thursday, Feb. 20 at Island Federal Arena, falling three games in the loss column behind Vermont (22-6, 12-1) with four games left to play.
“[Vermont] didn’t get any separation until that last segment of the game,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “Give them credit. They made four huge threes that won the game for them. That being said, to me, the game was lost in the charge circle and their ability to finish in the lane versus ours.”
The Seawolves, who have struggled to recapture their early-season hot shooting, only made 32% of their shots on Thursday night, including a 7-for-28 (25%) performance in the second half. Especially dire was the team’s lack of success with 2-pointers, where Stony Brook went 10-for-32 (31%), compared to Vermont’s 16-for-27 (59%) rate in that range.
Still, Stony Brook had a 4-point lead with eight minutes to go after a triple from junior forward Mouhamadou Gueye put the Seawolves ahead 45-41. The Catamounts would score the next nine points, and Ford called timeout after Duncan hit his first long ball of the night to put Vermont up 50-45.
By the time Duncan had hit his third 3-pointer, the Catamounts were on an 18-2 run over a span of six and a half minutes. During that stretch, the Seawolves shot 0-for-6 and committed three turnovers.
“We needed to have a lead right there and we didn’t because we got the ball around the rim and we could not get it in the basket,” Ford said. “They were physical with us and we didn’t do a good job finishing. That was a huge factor in the game.”
Junior guard Elijah Olaniyi was still sidelined with the high ankle sprain he suffered in a loss to New Hampshire over a week and a half ago. In his absence, redshirt-junior forward Andrew Garcia scored a game-high 20 points to lead the Seawolves’ offense, including a clutch 7-for-7 mark at the line. Freshman guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore scored 13 and helped keep Stony Brook close in the first half with early 3-pointers.
The Seawolves took their first lead with 13:27 to go in the second half following a Gueye layup, and immediately extended that lead when redshirt-junior guard Makale Foreman banked in a deep transition three to go up 38-33. The bucket capped off a string of 10 straight points for Stony Brook, but the Catamounts were able to grab the momentum back to conclude the game.
“Because we weren’t making anything, they extended hard on Makale, which teams have been doing since he’s been in a little slump shooting the ball,” Ford said. “With the current makeup of our roster right now, most of our perimeter guys are better shooters than drivers … Could we have done a better job of getting it to [Garcia] tighter to the basket? Absolutely. We were trying to. They made it hard on us.”
Vermont senior forward Anthony Lamb, the reigning America East Player of the Year, was held to just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. Ford praised Garcia’s defensive performance against Lamb but admitted that limiting his offense wasn’t enough to counteract poor shot selection late in the game.
“I think we just got too dribble-happy,” Garcia said of his team’s offensive struggles in the closing moments. “We kind of sped ourselves up as a team. I think [Vermont] played solid defense all game … We’ve got to give up the good shot for a great shot.”
Stony Brook has a quick turnaround with less than 48 hours between games. The Seawolves host the Maine Black Bears (7-19, 3-9) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Island Federal Arena, a team which they beat 73-51 in Bangor on Jan. 5. Maine looks to avoid finishing in last place and become the only team in the America East to not reach the conference playoffs.