The difficulty of winning back-to-back games on the road was not lost on the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, especially given their inexperience. With a pair of victories against the Binghamton Bearcats on Dec. 19 and 20, the Seawolves opened the conference slate with an affirming sweep to improve to 4-4 (2-0 AE), following a Saturday blowout with a Sunday nailbiter that went into overtime.
“[The sweep] was important,” redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli said in a postgame press conference. “It shows that we can mentally prepare for both days and that we won’t lapse. This is just one series. We have a lot more. We’ve just got to keep on doing all the right stuff.”
Stony Brook began conference play undefeated for the 13th year in a row after toppling Binghamton 73-59 on Saturday. The Seawolves were bolstered by a strong 50% shooting performance (28-for-56 from the floor) and a strong advantage on the glass, out-rebounding the Bearcats 39-32.
“I thought the intensity we played with today was significantly higher,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “That means we’re learning and we’re getting better.”
Both teams got off to a sluggish start offensively, but Stony Brook pulled away with a pair of three-pointers from Policelli, igniting the spark midway through the first half. The Seawolves entered the break up 38-26, with a quick drive to the basket by junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez followed by a halfcourt steal taken back for the layup from junior forward Mohamed Diallo.
“My teammates did a good job of finding me and I did the easy part, just hitting wide open shots,” Policelli said. “I felt like that just stretched Binghamton’s defense out, so then we were able to attack the gaps. That just pretty much got us going for the first time.”
Opening up the second half shooting 13-for-18, Stony Brook opened up a 23-point lead with 8:29 remaining in the game. Ford pulled his starters and went with a lineup of bench players before eventually reversing course once the lead gradually decreased in the waning moments of the game.
Policelli and junior guard Tykei Greene led all players with 15 points, while senior forward Jaden Sayles had 12 points to increase his season-opening double-digit scoring streak to seven games.
The Seawolves were able to shut down Binghamton sophomore guard Tyler Bertram, a Charlotte transfer who led the Bearcats with 12 points on four first-half three-pointers but was held completely off the board after halftime.
“We have tremendous respect for his ability to shoot the ball, and we just couldn’t impact his shooting enough [in the first half],” Ford said about defending Bertram. “We came in and we tried to do the same thing in the second half.”
Ford emphasized the need for his players to show “mental toughness” after a Saturday rout in order to seize the sweep the following afternoon. The Seawolves looked to be en route to sweeping the second game before needing to come from behind and force overtime, where Stony Brook fired on all cylinders to win 80-70 on Dec. 20.
“I think that [Binghamton] played probably a little harder today, with a sense of urgency coming off the loss,” Ford said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of teams on the second day just play harder when they get beat, whether it’s an actual Xs-and-Os adjustment, or just guys having pride to not want to lose twice in a row.”
The Seawolves jumped out to a 17-5 lead with 13:19 left in the first half, but the Bearcats crawled back with the help of the long ball to cut the deficit to four points, 32-28, by halftime. Binghamton took its first lead midway through the second half and extended it to as wide as five at 53-48. Clutch free-throw shooting on Stony Brook’s end put them in position to tie it at 64 apiece and extend the game to an extra period.
Winning the tip in overtime, the Seawolves immediately struck with a three-pointer from Policelli. Another deep ball courtesy from Rodriguez opened up a 72-66 lead with 2:42 remaining. Stony Brook outscored Binghamton 16-6 in bonus time.
“I just saw an opening,” Policelli said. “I didn’t really see that many open looks today, so I saw it, and I just shot it.”
Policelli and Greene again led all scorers on Sunday, scoring 16 points each. Greene continued to be a force on the glass, with 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Senior forward Omar Habwe, who earned his third consecutive start on Sunday, set another season high with 14 points, including seven of Stony Brook’s first 10 of the game.
Ford made sure to remind his team about the importance of humility in playing these back-to-back series after Saturday’s lopsided victory.
“We didn’t want that win to get into our heads,” Greene said in a postgame press conference. “We wanted to stay locked in, and we just came into the game knowing that it’s not going to be as easy as it was before.”
Stony Brook looks to maintain its undefeated conference record with a two-game series against the UMass Lowell River Hawks home at Island Federal Arena on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 5 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 28 at 2 p.m.