Having seemingly stymied the Bryant Bulldogs with a defensive zone, it appeared as if the Stony Brook men’s basketball team was on its way to victory after dropping two in a row to St. John’s and Hofstra. Instead, a second-half lead vanished and the Seawolves dropped their third straight, 81-72, on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, Rhode Island, falling to 1-4 on the season.
“I thought we played with a lot of intensity in the middle part of the game,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “[We] got off to a slow start, were able to wrestle the lead back by halftime, and then in the second half had a nice lead, and it just kind of unraveled. We couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
These two schools were originally scheduled to play each other first on Nov. 25, but that game was canceled after a referee working the game tested positive for COVID-19.
Stony Brook entered halftime with a lead for the first time this season, ending the first half on a 19-5 run. The Seawolves faced a 10-point deficit before taking the lead back on a three-pointer by junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez to go up 36-34 with two minutes until the break. Right before the end of the first half, Rodriguez came up with the steal and fed it to senior forward Omar Habwe, who flushed it down to go up 41-37.
The Seawolves carried that momentum into the beginning of the second half, going up by as many as eight points after a three-pointer from redshirt-sophomore Frankie Policelli extended the lead to 53-45.
From then on, things fell apart.
“I believe we had the ball inside the charge circle seven times in the last 13 minutes and didn’t finish seven times,” Ford said. “Some guys had decent games, but we’ve got work to do, it’s pretty obvious.”
The Bulldogs used a pair of three-pointers to creep within distance, then seized control from inside, using a 15-1 run. Stony Brook continued to have trouble finishing inside while Bryant was able to build up their largest lead of the afternoon, a 12-point advantage with under four minutes to go.
“We have some defensive issues,” Ford said. “We’re having a hard time keeping the ball in front. We’ve got to get that figured out because that will be a real problem for us throughout the whole season if we can’t correct it.”
Rodriguez led his team with a 19-point, 8-rebound performance, while senior forward Jaden Sayles added 13 to continue his streak of five straight double-digit games to begin the season. Coming off the bench, Habwe had his best showing of the year, scoring a season-high 10 points while turning heads on numerous dunks. Five players scored in double digits for the Seawolves.
“He’s also playing against a lot of presses where he is not only the primary ball handler in certain lineups, but kind of the only guy who is slick in terms of dribbling and can get through seams and gaps,” Ford said about his starting point guard. “Once he beats the press, we need to make plays to try to score, so he’s still a guy who’s got a lot to learn. His best basketball is ahead of him.”
Bryant sophomore guard Michael Green III, the reigning Rookie of the Year in the Northeast Conference (NEC), led all players with 24 points while going a perfect 7-for-7 at the line. He was one of four players to cross double digits for Bryant’s typically fast-paced offense.
The Bulldogs controlled the early pace of the game, but were denied the chance to pull away as the Seawolves kept biting into their lead. Ford switched into a 3-2 zone that initially flipped the script. Senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye was a defensive force, recording five blocks, with highlight-worthy dunking on the offensive end.
“We can play zone as a change-of-pace defense and we can use it to keep teams out of rhythm,” Ford said. “But it’s hard to sit in zone for 40 minutes every game.”
Stony Brook returns home on Tuesday, Dec. 15 to face the Point Park Pioneers, an NAIA school from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in what will be the Seawolves’ final tune-up before conference play begins at Binghamton the following weekend.