Stony Brook University men’s basketball playing against UMBC. The Seawolves lost all four contests against the top two teams in the America East. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

The last two weeks offered a hefty challenge for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, with four games against the top two teams in the America East standings. After being swept in Burlington by the Vermont Catamounts on Feb. 13 and 14, the Seawolves lost all four of those contests. 

“We need to win just to feel better about life,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference after suffering the sweep on Sunday. “This weekend was kind of extra because we did play well enough to win … I think that we all are ready for the tournament.”

Despite playing its first game in nearly a month, Vermont showed little signs of rust as Stony Brook lost its third straight game on Saturday, falling 86-78 to drop to below .500 in conference play after starting 4-0. Five different players scored in double digits for the Seawolves, but it was not enough to overcome a potent Catamount attack that made all the shots they needed to.

“The only thing we’re consistent at is inconsistency,” Ford said in a postgame press conference after Saturday’s loss. “It’s frustrating because we played the right way today. We really battled hard and got beat by a better team today.”

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Senior forward Jaden Sayles led all Seawolves with 16 points, his first double-digit affair in four games, while senior forward Omar Habwe put up a season-high 15 off the bench. Making his return to the court after missing the last two games with a hip ailment, redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli added 12 while senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye continued his hot outside shooting with two more triples en route to a 13-point, 8-rebound showing.

The Seawolves jumped in front early courtesy of two three-pointers from junior guard Tykei Greene, but the Catamounts responded with a 12-0 run to grab a lead that they would not concede for the rest of the game. Stony Brook scored eight in a row to narrow the gap and take a 35-29 deficit entering halftime.

With 9:19 remaining, Gueye slammed down a one-handed dunk reminiscent of his SportsCenter Top 10 highlight at Patrick Gym last season. He completed the three-point play to cut Vermont’s lead to 53-50. It was the closest that Stony Brook would get, continuing a trend of getting within one possession in the second half but being unable to actually grab the lead back.

“We’ve got to find a way to be a little more ball-strong in traffic and find a way to draw the foul,” Ford admitted. “We’re not a team that has made many threes on the season — the numbers are the numbers, we are who we are. We have to score the way we have to score, and that’s throwing it inside, drive it, get it on top, get on the offensive glass.”

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Stony Brook had a chance to win late in Sunday’s second game of the series, but a crucial missed opportunity haunted the team late as the Seawolves fell 61-57 in their fourth straight defeat.

“It’s hard to keep chasing rebounds and playing excellent defense,” Ford said about searching for success without consistent shooting. “We deserved to win against a really good team on the road, but came up one possession short.”

Gueye had a chance to put Stony Brook, down 58-57, on top with 18 seconds remaining, but missed a crucial dunk that would have given them the lead. The Seawolves still had a chance to tie the game on the final possession, but Policelli missed a closely guarded three.

Stony Brook crawled back from a 13-point second-half hole, holding Vermont without a bucket in the final three minutes of the game after Ford called timeout.

“We made an adjustment with how we were guarding some ball screen stuff,” Ford said. “Some guys made some great defensive plays.”

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The first half was closely contested, and junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez buried a contested three late before the break to cut the Catamounts’ lead to 28-26. Vermont, however, began to pull away in the second half off a barrage of three-pointers from graduate forward Tomas Murphy.

Murphy, a Northeastern transfer, came off the bench and shot 5-for-7 from downtown, scoring 17 points and more than doubling his number of threes made on the season. His fifth gave Vermont a 50-37 lead, its largest of the afternoon, with 10:39 left in the game.

Rodriguez led all players with 24 points, accounting for all but one of the Seawolves’ five made triples. Stony Brook continued to have difficulty finding success outside, shooting 24% (5-for-21) from deep.

The Seawolves conclude their conference regular season next weekend with a road series against the Albany Great Danes on Feb. 20 and 21.

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