Although the Stony Brook men’s basketball team remained on the hunt for a crucial top-two seed with a series split at home against the Hartford Hawks on Jan. 30 and 31, there was still a lingering feeling of disappointment knowing how close the team was to a much-needed sweep.
“We should have won yesterday,” junior forward Leighton Elliott-Sewell said in a postgame press conference after Sunday’s victory. “We did some things down the stretch that hurt us, but we just fixed it today. That’s all we could do.”
The Seawolves choked away a golden opportunity on Saturday, dropping the first game of the series in a difficult 59-57 home loss. All signs pointed to Stony Brook winning this contest, including taking a six-point lead with under three minutes remaining, but late blunders granted Hartford the improbable advantage.
Hartford began the game shooting 1-for-23 from beyond the arc while Stony Brook dominated the glass with a +14 rebound margin and led the match for the majority of the second half. In spite of these statistics, the Hawks improbably came from behind in the final moments of the game to steal the win from the Seawolves.
“It’s not an effort issue,” Ford said after the loss. “You can’t get 22 offensive rebounds and not be playing with maximum effort. We have a lot of issues with just [being] sloppy with the ball, lack of attention to detail with some scouting report stuff, which is frustrating, and then our shooting has just been anemic since we’ve come back.”
Two ugly turnovers late swung the momentum back into Hartford’s favor. Sophomore guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore, making his first start of the season, chucked the ball out of bounds while trying to find senior forward Jaden Sayles in the low post. Then, with the game tied, junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez dribbled for too long and was stripped by graduate guard Traci Carter.
“His steal at the end was as impressive as a defensive play as you’ll see,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a postgame press conference on Saturday. “I can’t tell you how big of an impact he’s made on our program on the defensive side.”
When Gueye took a rare three and got a lucky bounce to roll it in, the Seawolves were in firm control, up 53-47 with the Hawks unable to make a shot. The Hawks earned a miracle three of their own when sophomore forward Miroslav Stafl hit a fadeaway off his own board with the shot clock winding down.
Stephenson-Moore’s miscue gave the ball right back to the Hawks, and junior forward Hunter Marks, a new foe of the Seawolves, took full advantage by tying the game at 55 with a deep ball from the top of the key.
The two teams exchanged points before Rodriguez found himself with the ball and the opportunity to break the tie for Stony Brook. Instead, Carter, who had four steals on the afternoon, grabbed his most crucial robbery and Hartford got the decisive third-chance bucket under the hoop with 15 seconds remaining.
Sophomore guard Tykei Greene put up a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double while Gueye showed off again with 14 rebounds, five assists and five blocks to go with eight points in a losing effort.
Despite starting off sluggish again on Sunday, Stony Brook received crucial contributions from the bench and locked down in the second half to finally upend Hartford 63-49. The win snapped a four-game losing streak against the Hawks and was the first time the Seawolves had reigned victorious in Ford’s tenure as head coach.
“That was the motivation we had all weekend coming into the game,” Gueye said in a postgame press conference. “Coach gave the new guys a rundown and everything … It was a big motivation for the team, and especially the guys we had last year, to make sure to get these wins.”
The Seawolves were down by nine early on in the first half, but Ford’s crew grabbed the lead back with 11 unanswered points, including a one-handed dunk from Stephenson-Moore after a turnover. Elliott-Sewell provided key offense off the bench, scoring a career-high 13 points, including 11 before halftime as Stony Brook led 26-20.
“He was very effective today,” Ford said about the junior college transfer. “He’ll certainly play more, but the key for him will be keeping that assertiveness … Hopefully he can continue to find ways in the games to slash and slice his way to the rim.”
Redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli, who Ford admitted is dealing with a hip injury, finished with a game-high 16 points, including a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown in the second half. His hot stretch was crucial in pulling away from the Hawks as Stony Brook’s lead reached as large as 19.
“I just didn’t like our energy level [in the first half],” Ford said. “We certainly challenged some guys and then we yanked some guys out, and I think both of those things had a positive impact. I’ll give the starters credit because they didn’t sulk. They went back in and found ways to be effective.”
Now 8-8 (6-4 AE), Stony Brook has its toughest opponent yet upcoming, as the UMBC Retrievers (10-4, 6-3 AE) come to Island Federal Arena next weekend.
“We’re going to have to play better than we played today on both ends of the floor the next two weekends,” Stony Brook’s head coach acknowledged. “In my opinion, UMBC is the best team [in the conference]. They have the best talent, they’ve got the most athleticism, they’ve got the most size. We’re going to find out what we’re made of next weekend.”