The Seawolves were riding the high of a 5-game win streak and a first-place start in conference play late in December. Then came a 3-week pause after a person in the program tested positive for COVID-19.
Upon the resumption of play on Jan. 16 and 17, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team found its pre-stoppage momentum suddenly upended after getting swept at home by the New Hampshire Wildcats, falling to 6-6 (4-2 AE).
“We’re going to have to prevent it from spiraling,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “That’s something we’re going to have to figure out … losing is about as bad a feeling as it gets. [The players] are all kind of miserable right now, as are the coaches — as we should be.”
The Seawolves made their return to the court on Saturday, ultimately choking away a 13-point first-half lead in an 81-64 defeat, the program’s first defeat to the Wildcats at home since 2014. It was the first conference defeat for Stony Brook, who saw a 5-game win streak snapped after going 4-0 in America East play before the halt.
“I thought the second half was clearly a disaster,” Ford said. “[New Hampshire is] super physical … whether that wore on us and we were physically tired in the second half, or whether we just mentally weren’t tough enough to sustain it for 40 minutes.”
Ford noted he was concerned about his players’ cardio and ability to make late-game jumpers coming off the elongated pause. Stony Brook had gotten off to a hot start, firing the three-ball efficiently to take a 32-19 lead with 3:55 remaining in the first half. However, it was promptly followed by 10 straight points from New Hampshire to make it a one-possession game again, with the Seawolves entering the break up just 34-29.
The Seawolves remained in control for much of the second half as well until the offense stagnated midway through, allowing the Wildcats to grab back a lead that they would never relinquish. After Stony Brook went up 53-48 with 10:49 left to go in the game, New Hampshire embarked on a 19-2 run, shooting 7-for-9 from the field in the stretch while holding the Seawolves to 0-for-4 with four turnovers.
“We did not have very good timing,” Ford said. “Our offense was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud, which, you know, when you don’t play a lot in a while, it’s tough.”
The sharpshooting duo of junior forwards Nick Guadarrama and Jayden Martinez caught fire in the second half, leading the way for a Wildcats team that shot 57% (8-for-14) from beyond the arc in the period.
“There were a couple of major breakdowns,” Ford admitted. “A couple of things we went through and covered that we did not guard correctly in, and those didn’t happen in the first half … we lost Guadarrama and we lost Martinez three times probably in the second half.”
Stony Brook played on Saturday without senior forward Jaden Sayles, who was not yet eligible to return in accordance with COVID-19 protocol.
“I don’t know what his conditioning level is going to be,” Ford said. “I’m hoping we can get half to two-thirds of his usual minutes, but we’re gonna need some production out of him because this is gonna be a physical game again tomorrow.”
Sayles played on Sunday, putting up an efficient 10 points in 12 minutes, but the Seawolves found themselves without starting senior forward Omar Habwe, who was ruled unavailable just before the opening tip.
The second game of the series had a closer finish than the first, but Stony Brook wound up on the losing end again, falling 67-64 as junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez missed both potential game-tying free throws as well as the game-tying three-pointer as time was about to expire.
“I don’t hate the shot he got,” Ford said. “You’re having to speed-dribble and hoist a jumper, not a shot you’re going to make a whole bunch.”
Stony Brook, whose largest lead was eight points in the first half, still had a 61-59 lead with 3:18 remaining in the game after redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli worked a layup in. Policelli, whose three-point shooting was noticeably absent in a 1-for-7 performance, went 4-for-7 from inside to still put up 13 points.
On the Wildcats’ ensuing possession, junior guard Qon Murphy, a Houston Baptist transfer, sunk his third triple of the game to put New Hampshire back up 62-61.
The Seawolves couldn’t capitalize on opportunities at the line, such as two earlier front ends of a one-and-one, and junior guard Tykei Greene, despite leading his team with 14 points on Sunday, could only tie the game during his next trip. New Hampshire subsequently converted on a difficult guarded shot under the bucket to grab a 64-62 lead. Charge calls on their next two possessions frustratingly robbed the Seawolves of more opportunities to score.
“We had some starters and key guys not statistically show up like they had on the season,” Ford said. “I certainly don’t want to be insinuating that it was just some guys off the bench getting extra minutes. That was not the entire problem.”
Stony Brook was thoroughly outplayed on the glass, losing the offensive board battle 17-7 and the overall battle 42-29. Ford took note of how his team finally limited New Hampshire’s second-chance opportunities in the final 13 minutes, but by then the damage had been done.
“Giving up second-chance points and offensive rebounds, that killed us,” senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye said in a postgame press conference. “We were in the game for most of the game, it’s just those two things were really critical when it came to us trying to win.”
Gueye decorated the scoresheet with an all-around performance: 10 points, six rebounds, five blocks, four assists and two steals. He crossed 100 career blocks on Sunday, his 45th game, one shy of Jeff Otchere’s 44 games as the fastest to reach the threshold.
Stony Brook, now looking at a 2-game losing streak, will begin a four-game road trip with two contests at new conference member NJIT on Jan. 23 and 24. Tip-off for both games is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Wellness and Events Center in Newark, New Jersey.