The basketball arena at St. John’s on Dec. 6. St. John’s defeated Stony Brook men’s basketball with a final score of 89-66. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

For 16 minutes, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team put the St. John’s Red Storm on upset watch. The rest of the game was a reminder that the Seawolves are very much still a team that is in development as they fell 89-66 on the road at Carnesecca Arena on Sunday, Dec. 6, dropping to 1-2 on the season.

This was a game rapidly put together five days ago after both Stony Brook and St. John’s had games against Sacred Heart canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests. In an extra handicap, the Seawolves, under NCAA policy, were not allowed to practice on Saturday, their lone day off before this contest. 

So, when the Seawolves were up 33-27 with four to go in the first half against a Red Storm team that had the advantage in size and physicality, it looked as if Stony Brook was capable of stunning a Big East opponent they hadn’t faced since 2009 despite being located less than 50 miles apart.

The sobering reality came crashing down hard when St. John’s ended the first half on a 22-2 run that included the final 13 points of the frame. The Red Storm compounded the offensive burst by extending it to a 34-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half, forcing head coach Geno Ford to burn multiple timeouts before the first media break.

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“We led for [a] majority of the first half, then ran out of gas late and made some mental errors that led to transition for them,” Ford said in a press release. “I liked a lot of what we did. Building this team is going to be a process. We have talent, but currently lack great on-the-floor chemistry. We need to continue to improve over the next three games prior to the conference schedule.”

Three-point shooting continued to doom the Seawolves, who made just seven of 23 shots from beyond the arc. Redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli, thought to be one of Stony Brook’s deep threats this season, was shut out in the first half after going 0-for-7 and 0-for-5 from downtown. The Dayton transfer ended the game with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double but shot just 5-for-16 from the floor.

Following Friday’s overtime victory over Fairfield, Ford noted that he was not worried about the performance of senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye, who entered the contest averaging just 5.0 points per game. His team-high 15 points on Sunday showcased his athleticism in getting to the bucket.

St. John’s’ reputation of being defensively active haunted Stony Brook, who turned the ball over 29 times. The Red Storm applied stiff backcourt pressure against the Seawolves, who were forced into traps and errant passes.

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“It changed the course of the game,” St. John’s junior guard Greg Williams Jr., who scored a game-high 21, said about the full-court press in a postgame press conference. “I think that we were able to speed them up and come up with turnovers.”

Ford trotted out the same starting lineup for a third game in a row, this time producing four scorers in double digits. Along with Gueye and Policelli, junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez added 11 and senior forward Jaden Sayles had 10. Stony Brook did not get much offensive help from its bench, which scored a total of nine points.

“Stony Brook came and, I thought, threw the first punch,” Red Storm head coach Mike Anderson said in a postgame press conference. “They couldn’t miss.”

There were moments of excellence in that first half. Rodriguez found a wide-open junior guard Tykei Greene in the corner for a three. Gueye got a block and took it all the way back for a noteworthy dunk. Yet even when Stony Brook led, miscues like missing uncontested threes and passing into traffic prevented the lead from being larger.

St. John’s dominated in assists (23 to 8) and steals (20 to 8).

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The Seawolves will look to get back in the win column on Wednesday, Dec. 9 in the annual Battle of Long Island against the Hofstra Pride. Stony Brook has not won in this rivalry matchup since 2015. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex in Hempstead, New York.

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