The Stony Brook men’s basketball team was going to enter the America East Tournament on the road, regardless of the results of a weekend series at the Albany Great Danes on Feb. 20 and 21. Although success from beyond the arc in a first game win offered hope that the team was turning a corner, the Seawolves could not carry it over to the second game.
“Hopefully next weekend we can get hot, because we’re capable,” head coach Geno Ford said about the postseason after Sunday’s defeat. “Our defense and rebounding is way good enough to make a deep run in the tournament here, but we can’t be 3-for-19 [in shooting threes] and win.”
The undermanned Seawolves dominated Saturday’s series opener, with a key second-half run making way for the 59-43 victory, snapping the team’s four-game losing streak. While the win had little impact on Stony Brook’s postseason destiny, it was important for building momentum towards the conference tournament.
“We just stayed desperate to win,” junior guard Tykei Greene said in a postgame press conference after Saturday’s victory. “We had that little losing streak, but that didn’t stop us. It just kept us more focused, more motivated to catch momentum going into the playoffs.”
Playing without senior forwards Mouhamadou Gueye and Jaden Sayles, with the former reeling from an illness and the latter held out due to a back injury, a smaller Stony Brook lineup locked in defensively with Greene moving to power forward and redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli playing center for parts of the game.
The Seawolves were dealt another blow to their bigs when senior forward Omar Habwe suffered a shoulder injury in the second half that kept him out for the remainder of the game. Ford admitted postgame that it was unlikely for either of Gueye, Sayles or Habwe to play in Sunday’s regular season finale, but Sayles ended up playing 20 minutes off the bench.
“We’ve had one guy hurt after the next … so we’ve built very little offensive rhythm on a new team,” Ford said. “Our defense has been plenty good to win since Jan. 1, so we need to keep guarding, we need to work really hard — and then hopefully we can get a couple guys with a hot hand that can carry us.”
Although Albany went up 8-2 early, Ford called a timeout and Stony Brook jumped back on top with a 20-4 run that gave the Seawolves a double-digit lead. Although the Great Danes appeared to gain momentum before the half, Policelli drained a three before the buzzer to go up 27-21 at the break.
It was a tied contest after the Great Danes scored the first six points of the second half, but from that point on, Stony Brook scored the next 16 points to put the game away. It was a stifling display against an Albany team that entered the weekend averaging 71 points per game.
Greene, whose size helped him contribute to Stony Brook’s smaller lineup, had his fourth double-double of the season in a 13-point, 12-rebound performance. Albany was held to 26% shooting, the lowest versus a Division I opponent all season.
“We really are short-handed up front, so what has to happen is smaller guys have to accept new roles,” Ford said. “Tykei Greene was just an animal on the backboard … He had the huge statline, which you’ve got to have. Effort isn’t enough. You need tangibles.”
Ford said after Saturday’s game that he would be giving playing time to bench players on Sunday to reward their sacrifices made to be a part of the team in a pandemic year. Senior guard Lenny Kadisha and junior center Alex Christie earned starts while junior guard Juwan White also saw court action in the final game of the regular season.
Stony Brook played from behind in most of Sunday’s game in a 67-59 loss, letting Albany score the first seven points and only taking a brief lead midway through the first half before Great Danes head coach Will Brown called a timeout with the Seawolves up 17-14.
The decision worked in Albany’s favor, who subsequently went on a 16-3 run to open up a double-digit lead. Stony Brook’s inability to consistently finish inside continued to be a problem as the Danes took control of the game from that point on and never took their foot off the gas.
“The amount of times we shy away from contact around the rim and can’t finish — as big and strong as we are, it’s not a physical thing,” Ford said. “We tend to shy away from contact and just flip it up there. We don’t keep our eyes on the rim.”
Down 38-30 at halftime, the closest the Seawolves came was five points with seven minutes remaining after Policelli was fouled and made both of his free throws to make the score 54-49.
After making nine three-pointers on Saturday, Stony Brook shot 3-for-19 (16%) from outside while allowing Albany to convert 6-for-13 (46%) in the first half, including three from Great Danes junior guard Antonio Rizzuto. The Seawolves held Rizzuto to 3-for-16 (19%) shooting on Saturday.
Stony Brook, ending the season at 9-13 (7-9), will be the No. 7 seed in the America East Tournament, playing the No. 6 seed UMass Lowell River Hawks (8-11, 7-8) in Durham, New Hampshire on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. The Seawolves swept the River Hawks in the regular season series on Long Island.
The winner of the Stony Brook-UMass Lowell game will face No. 3 seed New Hampshire on Sunday at 1 p.m.