The Stony Brook men’s basketball team warming up before playing Hofstra on Dec. 9. The team lost to Hofstra with a final score of 72-67. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

Hofstra freshman guard Vukasin Masic saw just five minutes of action. With 31 seconds left in the game and the shot clock winding down, he made his only bucket of the night. It was a shot that iced the game for the Pride, extending their lead to two possessions and finally stalling the Stony Brook men’s basketball team’s furious second-half rally.

Down by 23 points with 14 minutes to go, it appeared as if Stony Brook was left for dead in its annual Battle of Long Island rivalry against the Hofstra Pride. The Seawolves came to within one possession of the Pride with three minutes remaining, but could not get the stop they needed as they fell 72-67 in Hempstead, N.Y. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

“Hopefully we can build on the last 30 minutes of the game,” head coach Geno Ford said in a press release. “I thought we really competed hard and had a good understanding of the level of physicality required to be successful.” 

Prior to Wednesday’s contest, Ford noted how the Long Island rivalry was not really much of a rivalry due to Hofstra’s domination of the series: a 12-4 record since Stony Brook moved up to Division I in 1999. The Seawolves last won in 2015, a 71-68 nail-biter during the season that culminated in a March Madness appearance.

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The wins in the Battle of Long Island have at least been within grasp for Stony Brook recently, who lost by single digits during each of the last four seasons. The year before that though, Hofstra delivered an embarrassing 38-point rout.

The Seawolves, down 60-37, shut down the Pride midway through the second half, scoring 14 unanswered points. The run grew to 22-2 after a layup from senior forward Jaden Sayles made it a 62-59 game with 3:08 remaining; Hofstra shot 1-for-13 with three turnovers in a nearly 11-minute stretch.

Stony Brook never cut it any closer. After junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez was called for an offensive foul with 1:50 to go, Hofstra senior guard Jalen Ray subsequently hit a fadeaway jumper to bring it back to two scores.

“I love stepping up in big moments,” Ray said in a postgame press conference. “I like being that player for your team that makes plays and they count on you … I just learned from previous years before me, in times like that, you have to maintain your composure, just slow the game down.”

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Four games in, Ford appears to have his starting five set. After a cold-shooting first half on Sunday, redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli scored a team-high 16; he leads Stony Brook with 13.8 points per game. Senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye recorded his first double-double of the season in a 12-point, 10-rebound night, also adding three assists and two blocks, but he shot just 4-for-15 from the floor struggling especially with jumpers.

Rodriguez was the lone starter to not reach double-digit scoring. He was held off the board completely, missing all nine of his attempts, including five from beyond the arc, while turning over the ball three times.

“For our group, every experience is a new one,” Ford said. “We had to get one stop inside of a minute and we had them strung out with nothing going, but a kid made a difficult runner on the baseline. We just have to stick with the process of improving over the next month.”

The Pride got in front early, using a five-minute Seawolves scoreless stretch to open up a double-digit lead. Stony Brook struggled to establish an offensive rhythm and consistently work the ball inside, facing a Hofstra zone that held them to 9-for-30 (30%) shooting in the first half. 

A pair of corner threes from junior guard Tykei Greene to open the second half appeared to put some life into the Stony Brook offense. But Hofstra’s lead eventually crossed 20 after an emphatic dunk from freshman forward Kvonn Cramer, which triggered Ford to use his second timeout of the period.

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Stony Brook had its best performance at the free throw line so far this season, with a 19-for-22 (86%) conversion rate on the night. In a moment of note, Sayles attempted the first three-pointer of his collegiate career and converted, connecting from the left wing as the shot clock wound down midway through the first.

The Seawolves, now at 1-3 on the season, travel to Smithfield, Rhode Island to face the Bryant Bulldogs on Saturday, Dec. 12. These two teams were originally scheduled to play each other during the season opener on Nov. 25 before the game was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test from a referee.

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