Mouhamadou Gueye during the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball home opener on Nov. 5, 2019. Gueye had seven rebounds and five blocks in a game against Fairfield on Dec. 4. EMMA HARRIS/STATESMAN FILE

It wasn’t pretty, but the Seawolves are in the win column for the 2020-21 season.

Coming off a 14-point road loss to Saint Peter’s on Tuesday, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team needed overtime to best the Fairfield Stags home at Island Federal Arena on Friday, Dec. 4, squeaking out a 72-69 victory despite trailing for most of the game and leaving many points at the line with a dismal free throw shooting night.

“This is like NBA preseason games to me, it really is,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “We have to figure our team out. We have to figure our rotation out.”

Junior guard Tykei Greene took control of the game for the Seawolves after a turnover on their first possession helped the Stags take a quick 64-62 lead in overtime. Assisted by senior forward Jaden Sayles, Greene dunked it in to tie the game at 64 apiece. 

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On the next possession, Sayles came through with a hard rejection to set up a Greene mid-range jumper that put the Seawolves up. Stony Brook continued to get defensive stops and widened their overtime lead to as much as 72-66.

“This is something I practice every day,” Greene said in a postgame preference. “I feel comfortable shooting that shot and trusting that our offense can get that backdoor dunk.”

The Seawolves were fortunate to be in a position to win this game. A five-second inbound violation on Fairfield towards the end of regulation gave Stony Brook an opportunity to tie the game up at 62 with 39.9 seconds remaining. Junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez drove to the rim quickly and did just that. On the next possession, the Seawolves’ stout defense forced a shot clock violation, sending the contest to overtime after Greene’s buzzer-beating heave fell short.

Ford opted for the same starting lineup as Tuesday. Rodriguez led all players with 21 points, while Greene had Stony Brook’s first double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Sayles was the other Seawolf to score in double figures, adding 12.

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“We just kept playing with the same energy we had in the first half,” Rodriguez said in a postgame press conference. “We just keep playing, being comfortable with our shots and decisions.”

Senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye stepped up on the defensive end late in the game, playing with four fouls. He recorded seven rebounds and five blocks.

The new pieces that Ford has brought into the program were key players in the victory, overcoming periods of struggle to perform at the most crucial moments.

“I thought Juan had a good ballgame … and I felt like he left a few plays out there,” he said. “Jaden Sayles’ first half — not very good. Second half and overtime — terrific. Tykei Greene is just a warrior … Omar Habwe, although he didn’t start, was as big a factor in us winning the game as anything … we looked crisper because of how hard he cut and moved.”

Ford was visibly displeased with his team’s 49% (16-for-33) performance at the line.

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“It’s really frustrating,” Stony Brook’s head coach said. “I want to punch myself in the face … We have missed more free throws than we’ve made on the season. If we make free throws, we win that game by double figures.”

In the second half, the Seawolves missed the front end of a one-and-one twice in a row. Then, after Stony Brook was in the double bonus, the second trip to the line resulted in an 0-for-2. In overtime, with the Seawolves up by six, Rodriguez missed both shots, allowing a Fairfield three-pointer to make it a one-score contest in the closing minute of the game.

“I missed a ton of free throws,” Greene said. “We’ve got to keep pushing and playing our game, and we can make good things happen.”

In an offensively scarce first half, the Seawolves fell down by double digits, facing a 15-5 deficit eight minutes into the game. Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm, with Fairfield’s 38% field goal percentage still better than Stony Brook’s 31%. The Seawolves made one three-pointer in the first half, courtesy of redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli. Stony Brook was able to whittle it down to 29-26 at halftime.

The Seawolves have an NCAA-mandated off day on Saturday, leaving them without the ability to practice before Sunday, Dec. 4: a nationally-televised showdown on Fox Sports 1 with the St. John’s Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena in Queens.

“We took this game because it’s on national TV,” Ford said. “We weren’t going to pass on the chance to play St. John’s [and] give our kids a chance for some exposure. It’s a tall ask. St. John’s is terrific, and they’re big and athletic, and we struggled the other day against pressure. So I’m sure they’re going to try to heat us up.”

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