Redshirt junior guard Anthony Roberts reacting to a basket in the game against Bryant on Dec. 11. Roberts led Stony Brook with 20 points. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

In a gritty back and forth contest, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team held off a second-half offensive surge to beat the Bryant Bulldogs 86-78 on Saturday, Dec. 11 in a game where the Seawolves saw an 18-point lead turn into a one-possession game late.

“Close games are always the big one because it shows how tough we are and how strong we are to stay in the game,” redshirt junior guard Tykei Greene said in a postgame press conference.

The Seawolves (5-4) won their second straight and were led by redshirt junior guard Anthony Roberts, who put up 20 points and eight rebounds as one of five Stony Brook players to score in double digits. Greene ended up with a similar 19 points and eight rebounds.

“[Bryant] was getting the ball out fast, so us getting back in transition was a key,” Roberts said. “That’s the one thing they were doing good. No matter what type of bucket it was, they were getting it out and pushing, pushing, pushing. They’re a fast-paced team.”

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Head coach Geno Ford stressed postgame the need to improve Stony Brook’s transition defense, labeling it as the reason why Bryant (4-7) was allowed to get back into the game.

“They made threes; they hurt us with driving to the rim. They just had their way after we scored,” Ford said. “They got it out so fast and ran it down our throat. We did have some guys playing a little bit more minutes than maybe what they usually would, but our transition defense was subpar and their transition offense after we scored was excellent.”

Bryant was dealt a devastating blow hours before the game when CBS Sports insider Jon Rothstein reported that two Bulldogs starters — senior guard Peter Kiss and graduate forward Hall Elisias — were ruled out against Stony Brook because of COVID-19 protocols. Kiss, a Rutgers transfer, was Bryant’s leading scorer at 19.7 points per game while Elisias, a strong presence down low, put up 3.4 blocks per game.

The Seawolves, too, were short-staffed, dressing only nine players and having practices limited because of personnel issues.

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“I’m really proud of our guys, especially with the way we came in here with zero chance to really prep,” Ford said.

Stony Brook started the game with a bang as Roberts found a cutting Tykei Greene, who went aerial for the alley-oop. Without their big pieces, Bryant kept things interesting at first, carried by an uncharacteristic hot start from outside. The Bulldogs were shooting just 29% from beyond the arc on the season but sent home all of their first three attempts, then missed all 12 of their subsequent first-half triples.

The Seawolves’ offense, which had been remarkable of late aside from the Wagner aberration, kept up its high-firing momentum and started to pull away in style with more loud dunks and flashy reverse layups. When Roberts dished it to Greene again off a turnover for another jam that put Stony Brook up 38-21, Bryant head coach Jared Grasso burned his second timeout of the half, looking to find something that could stop this Seawolves attack, which up to that point had made 12 of its 15 2-point attempts.

Bryant began to find more success in the paint, scoring nine of the last 10 points before the intermission to cut Stony Brook’s lead to 44-35. Coming out of the break, the Bulldogs continued their success inside while rediscovering their 3-point stroke, whittling down the Seawolves’ advantage to as little as two points at 54-52 with 13:06 left in the second. Defensively, Bryant ramped up their backcourt pressure and switched into a zone, taking away much of Stony Brook’s ball movement strengths.

“[In the] second half, we were holding the ball too long,” Roberts said. “As far as first half, we were beating the press and making moves off instincts, just going downhill fast. Second half, we were breaking the press and just pulling it out and letting [Bryant] set.”

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Even when Stony Brook used a 3-point play followed by a 3-point shot to open its lead back to 11 midway through the second half, Bryant did not wilt away and let the Seawolves win easily. It was still a one-possession game in the final minute and Stony Brook needed precise free-throw shooting to hold on late.

Bulldogs junior guard Charles Pride led all players with 27 points, making 11 baskets on the night to power a Bryant offense that made five of its first nine threes in the second half. On the Seawolves’ side, graduate guard Jahlil Jenkins, their top scorer from their last game, was held scoreless before halftime but finished with 13, including many key floaters to help Stony Brook match Bryant’s offensive push.

“Jahlil Jenkins [gave us the extra advantage] in the second half,” Greene said. “He came on and gave us a big spark. We all just followed his lead and kept playing.”

Ford vowed to focus on bettering the Seawolves’ transition defense ahead of the team’s next opponent, Central Connecticut State, on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

“I’m sure Central Connecticut will watch that film and be licking their chops to try to raise it down our throat a little bit,” he said.

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