The three-point shooting that had eluded the Stony Brook men’s basketball team since the pause finally caught fire at the most important time. Junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez was a man possessed, unable to miss from outside. Playing the UMass Lowell River Hawks on Feb. 27, the Seawolves were brutalizing a team they had historically dominated (15-1), a team that had never won a conference playoff game before.
After halftime, everything fell apart.
Up by as much as 16, Stony Brook’s offense sputtered, unable to match UMass Lowell’s adjustments as the River Hawks earned the go-ahead bucket with five seconds left to crawl all the way back and end the Seawolves’ season with a 64-62 comeback in Durham, New Hampshire.
River Hawks senior guard Obadiah Noel, who hadn’t started since Jan. 17 due to injury, made his return to the court and single-handedly decided the game. After a slow start, he ended with a game-high 23 points, including the decisive layup at game’s end that gave UMass Lowell its first ever win in the America East tournament.
“We have nobody that can guard [Noel],” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “He got the game winner on us. We knew they were going to him and we tried to load up on him, but it didn’t matter.”
Establishing the outside game was a key factor early on for Stony Brook, who made eight of its first 11 downtown attempts. Rodriguez’s hot hand guided the way, scoring 20 points in the first half on a perfect 6-for-6 from three. The Seawolves took a 43-29 lead entering the break.
Much like the rest of the Seawolves, Rodriguez was held in check afterwards, scoring just two points in the second half as the team missed its final 11 three-point attempts. After senior forward Mouhamadou Gueye dunked to put Stony Brook up by 16, UMass Lowell embarked on a 29-6 run over the next 13 minutes that ended with the River Hawks on top, 58-51.
The Seawolves’ second-half offensive futility during that stretch included shooting 2-for-16, missing all eight threes and turning the ball over seven times.
“We just didn’t have enough firepower on the offensive end,” Ford said while referencing the weapons lost in the offseason. “I’d like to tell you we stalled and held the ball. I mean, we played our normal base [offense].”
Stony Brook was still able to grab the lead back, scoring the next nine points through redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli’s free throw shooting and a three-point play by junior guard Tykei Greene that put the Seawolves up 60-58.
Rodriguez’s only second-half basket came on a drive and layup that gave Stony Brook a 62-60 lead. But Policelli could not secure a rebound off a missed River Hawks three with 54 seconds left, fouling Lowell junior forward Allin Blunt instead. The Seawolves lost a key opportunity to potentially extend the lead, letting UMass Lowell tie the game instead.
Greene was given a shot to win the game on the final play, but a corner three fell short.
Rodriguez still finished with a team-high 22 while Policelli and Greene added 15 and 12, respectively. Gueye, the newly-minted America East Defensive Player of the Year, proved why he earned the honor with 13 rebounds and six blocks.
Stony Brook ends the season at 9-14, losing 10 of its 13 games since returning from pause. The team’s winning percentage is the lowest in 13 years. Rodriguez, at 13.3 points per game, led the Seawolves in scoring with Policelli’s 10.7 per game joining him as the sole other player in double digits.
“We’re not good enough,” Ford admitted. “This was going to be a transition year when we lost those three all-league guys.”