Anthony Roberts mastered the art of the first impression.
Playing in his home debut for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, the redshirt junior guard from St. Bonaventure pulled the trigger on a deep buzzer-beating, tie-breaking three that erupted Island Federal Arena as it sunk through the net and stamped a 75-72 comeback win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Monday, Nov. 22.
“I even told the whole bench before the shot, ‘If it comes to me, it’s going up and it’s going to be green,’” Roberts said in a postgame press conference.
Graduate guard Jahlil Jenkins took the ball out and held it until six seconds remained. It looked as if he would be the one tasked with making another big shot, but as he drove, he dumped it off to Roberts near the sideline, who fired away with milliseconds on the clock.
“I kept telling Jahlil, ‘If you don’t have it, I’m going to hit it,’” Roberts said.
Down 72-69, Jenkins missed a triple that would have tied the game. When he got a second chance from the same location, he made Sacred Heart pay and knotted it up at 72 apiece, sending the first big shockwave among the Stony Brook faithful.
“We wanted to have [redshirt sophomore forward] Frankie [Policelli] come up to set a little ball screen and exit it early so they would possibly switch and we could get Jahlil on their big guy,” head coach Geno Ford said regarding the final play. “We told Anthony to stay on the right corner and let Jahlil try to get by the big guy and if they help, spray it to Anthony and hit a three in the corner. Now, that’s not exactly what happened. It would have been great if Jahlil would have shot it too.”
Following two tough contests against much more difficult opponents, the Seawolves returned home to Island Federal Arena for a reprieve versus a regional team for an easier assignment. A crowd of 2,403 showed up for the first Seawolves home game with fan attendance permitted since March 10, 2020, a loss to Hartford in the America East semifinals 622 days prior.
Stony Brook was down by nine points with over four minutes left, needing to overcome the deficit without graduate guard Elijah Olaniyi, who was hurt and did not play in the final seven minutes of the game after scoring 12 points.
“I don’t have an idea of what that is at this point, but it was enough that he was unable to go back in the game,” Ford said about Olaniyi’s injury. “Hopefully it’s a quick recovery.”
In the first half, Stony Brook took control of the game by being defensively active. Redshirt junior guard Tykei Greene nabbed three steals in less than two minutes to help Stony Brook score 10 unanswered points. The run was capped off when Greene followed his third straight strip with an emphatic dunk, lighting up the crowd and giving Stony Brook a 40-32 lead.
“I hold myself pretty high on the defensive end,” Greene, who finished with an 11-point, 14-rebound double-double, said. “Every time on defense, I’m trying to get a stop, I’m trying to go for the ball. I’m doing whatever I can to help my team win.”
Sacred Heart had already dominated the paint in the first half by shooting 62% (13-for-21) from within the arc, but the Pioneers feasted even more on the Seawolves’ small-ball lineup in the opening minutes of the second half.
“When we play Jahlil and [redshirt junior guard] Juan [Felix Rodriguez] together, we’ve got two small guards,” Ford said. “We were doing some switching because we were worried. We wanted to pressure them and try to get them into some turnovers.”
The Pioneers made nine of their first 13 second-half attempts from two while out-rebounding Stony Brook 14-4 to score 21 of the first 29 points after halftime.
“Our game plan was to switch,” Roberts said. “We kept switching but we weren’t in our gap, so that was just giving them an easy lane for them to keep driving. That was one thing that we were messing up.”
Stony Brook held a 42-36 halftime lead because the Seawolves were able to steal extra possessions. They turned 11 first-half turnovers into 17 points to compensate for getting beat inside. In the second half, Sacred Heart drove into the lane with more ease and did not cough the ball up.
“Our ball pressure the first 13 minutes of the second half was really poor,” Ford said. “I know they kept getting inside, but it was partially because our ball pressure was so bad they just could dribble with us and get it in there and then they were able to finish layups or drop offs. I think some of that was fatigue.”
When all was said and done, Stony Brook ended the game on a 13-1 run, not allowing a single field goal in the final four minutes while getting all five starters into double-figure scoring and recording 12 assists and 11 steals on the night.
Although it can be argued that the America East preseason favorite should not have needed late-game heroics to get past a middling Northeast Conference opponent, Stony Brook is officially in the win column and can move to .500 with a win on Wednesday, Nov. 24 against the Fairfield Stags.