Omar Habwe, graduate guard, during practice at Island Federal Arena. “It’s a learning experience for us,” Habwe said after a loss against the Kansas Jayhawks. JOCELYN CRUZ / THE STATESMAN

For most of the first half, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team held a lead against the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks, riding hot outside shooting to make up for a size disadvantage in the paint. The tide turned against the Seawolves after the break as the Jayhawks fired a barrage of threes to open up a wide gap and eventually earn the 88-59 win.

“For 20 minutes, we really hung in and did a lot of good things,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “So there are lot more positives for us than negatives.”

Stony Brook was up 9-2 within the first five minutes of the game, converting on a trifecta of 3-pointers while Kansas missed on multiple easy shots near the basket. Even when the Jayhawks took their first lead of the game by scoring nine in a row, the Seawolves battled pound-for-pound and grabbed the advantage right back.

The hot shooting continued to pour in as Stony Brook made six of its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc and led 24-21 with over six minutes left in the first half. For every Jayhawks bucket, the Seawolves seemed to have an answer.

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Momentum flipped towards Kansas’ favor when graduate guard Jahlil Jenkins had the ball stolen from him as he crossed midcourt for an easy Jayhawks layup. The score gave Kansas a five-point lead, its largest of the night so far. Graduate guard Elijah Olaniyi made a nifty steal of his own that he took cross-court for the score to send the Seawolves into halftime with just a 38-32 deficit.

Eventually, the threes stopped falling for Stony Brook and Kansas’ physicality won out. Led by senior guard Ochai Agbaji, projected by NBC Sports as a late first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Jayhawks held the Seawolves scoreless for four minutes in an eventual 20-2 run in the second half.

“Some of it was self-inflicted,” Ford said. “The reason it was competitive at halftime [was] we had five turnovers and [Kansas] only had three offensive rebounds. Second half, they have nine offensive rebounds and we have nine turnovers, so those two things totally flipped.”

Agbaji entered the contest as the nation’s leading scorer with 27.0 points per game. He topped all players on Thursday with 25 more, 10 of which came in the first four minutes of the second half. Kansas also won without starting redshirt-sophomore forward Jalen Wilson, who averaged 11.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last year as a freshman but was suspended for the first three contests of the season for an October DUI arrest.

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Meanwhile, Stony Brook missed its first five attempts from downtown coming out of halftime and committed nine turnovers. Kansas shot cold from three in the first half but knocked down seven of its first nine second-half triples to put the Seawolves away.

“It’s a learning experience for us,” graduate guard Omar Habwe said. “Down the stretch, we’ve got to keep playing hard. For the most part, it just lets us know that we’ve got a really good chance to make the tournament.”

The crowd at Allen Fieldhouse, which Ford described as “the Mecca of college basketball,” proved to be relentless. After missing the rim on an attempted three midway through the first half, redshirt-sophomore forward Frankie Policelli heard loud jeers of “air ball” all night whenever the rock was in his hands.

The Seawolves recorded nine assists on Thursday, almost half of their total made field goals, compared to two in the season-opening loss to George Mason. It was a point of emphasis for Ford, who was impressed with his team’s inside effort in the face of physical adversity.

“You don’t just throw it in there and get a basket,” he said. “You throw it in there, they collapse and they’re able to shot-challenge, block guys, be physical … I’m glad we were able to get in there some, but we’ve got to find a way to get those balls in the basket.”

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The Seawolves, looking for their first win, return for their home opener on Monday, Nov. 22 at 6:31 p.m. against the Sacred Heart Pioneers.

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