Stony Brook (7-4) defeated Saint Peter’s Peacocks 64-63 on Saturday, Dec. 18, in the final game of the Seawolves’ six-game homestand at Island Federal Arena after a strong second-half defensive performance.
Despite a shaky start and a 12-point deficit in the first half, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team prevailed in a thrilling matchup to extend its winning streak to four games.
Saint Peter’s (3-6) had a chance to take the lead with nine seconds left, but Peacock’s junior guard Daryl Banks III missed his jump shot and redshirt sophomore guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore secured the rebound. He was fouled but missed the front end of the one-and-one. In danger of losing, the Stony Brook defense needed to force a stop on the last possession.
That wound up not mattering when Stephenson-Moore himself blocked Banks’ potential game-winning layup, securing the one-point win for the Seawolves.
“My confidence level and my mentality have definitely changed over the last couple of games,” Stephenson-Moore said in a postgame press conference.
Stony Brook was down 50-40 with 11 minutes remaining and needed a run to spark the comeback. Noteworthy plays came from redshirt junior guard Tykei Greene, who first made a one-handed dunk on a putback to make it 51-50 then grabbed an offensive board between two defenders, took the ball to the corner, and then drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 53 apiece.
Greene credited his time playing pickup ball in the street to the grittiness that he has displayed so far this season.
“I give a lot of credit to playing back home and playing in the park, because in the park, they won’t give you anything free — they will follow you, they will push you, they will do whatever they have to do to win,” Greene said. “That’s where I got my toughness from, just playing at home when I was younger growing up.”
With the game tied at 55, Stony Brook turned a block from redshirt junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez into a fastbreak opportunity. Rodriguez denied a Saint Peter’s 3-point attempt, grabbed the rebound and bounced a pass ahead to graduate guard Jahlil Jenkins, who shook the defender and hit a step back wide-open three to give Stony Brook its first lead of the night.
The Seawolves eventually led by three possessions, 64-57, until some sloppy basketball took them from the driver’s seat to hanging on by a thread. Off a Saint Peter’s basket, Stony Brook turned the ball over in the backcourt on two straight possessions, allowing the Peacocks to score six points in 11 seconds with their aggressive full-court press.
Stephenson-Moore’s game-saving block allowed the Seawolves to walk away unscathed from those errors. Head coach Geno Ford was very complimentary of Stephenson-Moore’s resiliency, as his block more than made up for his miss at the free throw line.
“I think the end of the game speaks to the growth that we’ve had, toughness-wise. Tyler’s always been a good competitor, he’s always had good character, but we haven’t really had a ton of guys on our roster capable of missing a free throw and then going down and making the game-saving block,” Ford said in his opening remarks.
Stephenson-Moore hit the first 3-pointer for Stony Brook on the night. The Seawolves missed their first 13 attempts and went 1-for-16 in the first half. Stony Brook’s offense only shot 26.5% from the floor in the first, going 9-for-34 as a unit. The Peacocks entered third in the nation in fouls and continued to be overly aggressive, going over the foul limit just 13 minutes in.
“We already knew that some of us were not playing great defense at all, plus with the shots not falling, we were kind of getting aggravated and not running back on defense,” Stephenson-Moore said. “We just had to lock in and talk to each other and say, ‘We’ve got to step it up,’ and we did.”
Saint Peter’s largest lead was 28-16 with 3:24 left in the first half, but Stony Brook was able to cut it to 34-27 at halftime. Redshirt junior guard Anthony Roberts, the team’s leading scorer, led the way for the Seawolves in the first half, scoring eight points and showing off his active hands with a trio of steals. The Seawolves’ only highly-effective ways of scoring in the first frame were on the fastbreak and from the charity stripe, as they made eight of their nine free throw attempts.
“Their defense really made our ball movement stagnant,” Ford said. “They pressured the ball so hard … They’re tough, man. They recruit kids who are tough-minded.”
The second half was much better from Stony Brook. The defense was intense and on the ball all half, as several highlight-reel blocks from multiple defenders flipped the momentum in Stony Brook’s favor. The vigorous defense gave the offense more opportunities, and it showed on the scoreboard. Stony Brook’s defense forced 18 turnovers and had 10 steals on the night, setting up plenty of fastbreak scores. They were able to cash in 23 points off of the 18 turnovers, while only committing nine turnovers overall, leading to just 11 points off for the Peacocks.
Ford believed it was the splash plays on defense, specifically citing the 10 steals, that helped them turn things around and led them to their comeback.
Greene and graduate guard Omar Habwe dominated the game in the hard-nosed category, racking up a team-leading nine and eight rebounds, respectively. Habwe also literally took it off the nose several times, drawing not one, not two, but three charges from the Peacocks ball handlers. Habwe also had three steals of his own and Greene added one as well.
“The second half, I would attribute more to mental toughness than I would anything strategic,” Ford said. “[Saint Peter’s doesn’t] let you run anything. They pressure the ball, they deny the wings. So what are you going to run? You’re going to screen and they’re going to switch, so they blow up the timing on everything. It turns into a dribble drive and making good decisions at the end of your drive, and we did enough of that to win.”
Stony Brook is now 6-1 at home on the year, going 5-1 on their six-game homestand. Now taking to the road, the Seawolves have a laborious task ahead of them in Gainesville when they travel to face the No. 20 Florida Gators on Wednesday, Dec. 22.