In its sixth game, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team finally accomplished something it had yet to do this season — notch a hard-earned blowout victory.
An 80-57 win over the American Eagles on Wednesday, Dec. 1 brought the Seawolves (3-3) back to .500 on the first night of a six-game homestand. Four different players scored in double figures, led by redshirt junior guard Anthony Roberts’ 19-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“A lot of these games are going to come down to the wire, but it feels good to pull away early and have everyone get a chance to get in the game and show what they can do,” senior forward Jaden Sayles said in a postgame press conference.
American (2-6) entered the game with only one double-digit scorer and a disheartening five-game losing streak. The Eagles’ porous defense conceded 80.3 points per contest, giving Stony Brook a perfect opportunity to record 80 in its second straight game.
When graduate guard Omar Habwe made the Seawolves’ first 3-pointer of the night, the team’s shooting was jolted awake. Having mostly traded buckets for the game’s first eight minutes, Stony Brook needed to pull away soon against a struggling opponent.
And pull away they did. Habwe put up eight quick points to give Stony Brook a double-digit lead before it was Jahlil Jenkins’ time to shine. The graduate guard was coming off the bench, having not played in the Seawolves’ road win over Yale, but his presence on the court immediately lifted the Seawolves’ offense.
Working through his ankle injury, he ended with a season-high 16 points while adding two assists and three steals.
“Those things kind of bother you for a while, but he looks fast to me,” head coach Geno Ford said about his point guard’s health. “He’s a special player and wants to be out there, so he’s not going to let a little pain keep them out for too long.”
Jenkins knocked down two triples in a row, then assisted on a third. Stony Brook scored 13 straight points in a 19-2 run to send the crowd at Island Federal Arena happy into halftime with a 45-25 lead.
The Seawolves held the Eagles to just 35% shooting in the first half while not allowing a single basket from beyond the arc. American’s leading scorer, senior guard Stacy Beckton Jr., scored only two points in the frame.
Ford also credited the play of redshirt junior center Alex Christie for his role in setting up the Seawolves’ offense.
“Alex is our best screener, and it’s not just because of size, it’s because of a willingness that when he’s in, he’s just trying to get Anthony Roberts or Jahlil open. That’s his entire mindset,” Ford said. “When Alex was in, he really screened, we were able to get downhill, and then we kicked it out opposite a lot of times where we either shot it or [passed] one more [time] to the corner for wide open jumpers.”
American stepped it up coming out of the break to cut its deficit to as little as 13, making the first four of seven second-half 3-pointers and grabbing eight offensive boards to Stony Brook’s three in the period. The Seawolves, though, never relented.
“From a coaching perspective, I don’t think that we felt any sense of relief,” Ford said. “You’re trying to keep your players engaged because the majority of our roster are scorers. Well, you don’t beat anyone bad by just scoring … You get a 23-point win by getting stops.”
Graduate guard Elijah Olaniyi missed his third consecutive game with what appeared to be a left knee injury. Dressed in casual wear and walking around on crutches, his absence prompted Ford to reinvent his struggling offensive scheme.
“We chucked our base offense out the window and went to more motion stuff with high-lows and screen-rolls,” he said. “Before, we were doing a lot of space the floor dribble-drives. It’s what Villanova runs, so we called it ‘Wildcats.’ Unfortunately, we put the ‘wild’ in Wildcats, so we had to get away from that. Elijah’s injury is a significant thing for us … We don’t have as many drivers out there as we did when he was in, so we’ve made a structural change to what we’re doing offensively and I think that’s really paid off.”
Sayles, who had his best scoring output of the year, described himself as at “80%,” having recovered from a broken finger in the offseason but now dealing with a nagging back.
“Once I get past this, I should be back at 100%, full-go,” Sayles said.
Fresh off their largest margin of victory over a Division I team since Jan. 11, 2020, Stony Brook will continue its homestand against the Wagner Seahawks on Saturday, Dec. 4. Wagner recently went over two weeks without playing because of COVID-19-related issues in the program.