Senior forward Jaden Sayles with the ball in the game against American on Dec. 1. Sayles led Stony Brook with a season-high 16 points against Florida on Dec. 22. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team had no answer for the smothering Florida Gators from the first possession, falling 87-62 in Gainesville’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

The loss snapped Stony Brook’s (7-5) four-game winning streak as Florida (9-3) got a needed tune-up before the start of Southeastern Conference (SEC) play. The Gators were ranked as high as No. 14 in the AP Poll earlier this season, but a 15-point home loss to winless Texas Southern played a role in them falling out entirely from No. 20. 

The last time Stony Brook played an SEC school was when the Seawolves stunned South Carolina 83-81 in 2018.

“Florida was awesome. They were just awesome,” head coach Geno Ford said in a press release. “That’s a Top 25 team who played great today. Give them a lot of credit because they had a lot to do with our scores. We came into the game and our plan we knew we had to keep them out of the paint. That’s easy to say and hard to execute.” 

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Florida was always going to be a tough matchup for Stony Brook. The Gators entered Wednesday’s game holding opponents to 29% shooting from three, providing an effective counter to a key part of the Seawolves’ game plan. Stony Brook’s four-guard starting lineup came with a noticeable size disadvantage compared to Florida’s recruits, without a player near the height of Gators’ senior forward Colin Castleton, their 6-foot-11 leading scorer (14.7 per game), rebounder (9.5) and shot-blocker (2.6).

Minutes before the game, it was reported that Florida senior guard Myreon Jones, who was tied for the team’s lead in made 3-pointers, would not play as he entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Outside shooting was already not one of the Gators’ strengths, entering with just a 31% clip from beyond the arc.

Even without a starter, the Gators seized control early, scoring the first 10 points by feeding Castleton and benefiting from sloppy Seawolves ball-handling to force six turnovers in the first eight and a half minutes. Florida pressured Stony Brook in the backcourt, capitalized on the height mismatch, and did its work down low with ease. Senior forward Jaden Sayles came in for Stony Brook off the bench and established the Seawolves’ post presence, enjoying himself when he found an opportunity to go up for a dunk.

While both teams shot relatively evenly in the first half, Florida led 48-27 because of grabbing seven more offensive rebounds, leading to nine second-chance points compared to Stony Brook’s zero. Florida also scored 17 points off of nine Stony Brook turnovers and earned 10 more shot attempts than the Seawolves.

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“I thought our guys battled,” Ford said. “I was really pleased that we didn’t lie down and quit. It’s hard to dig in when you’re down 20 on the road at halftime but we kept battling.”

Stony Brook outscored Florida 11-8 in the first four minutes of the second half as the Gators coughed the ball up five times in the span. But after Florida head coach Mike White called a timeout to smooth things over, it was back to business for the Gators, who led by as much as 31 points with three minutes to go.

The Seawolves were out-rebounded 40-21 in total and 15-5 on the offensive glass. Despite the size disadvantage, Florida only scored eight more points in the paint with how Stony Brook went to Sayles more as the game went on.

“They were able to get us on some inside-out threes that were really a problem and the offensive rebounds were really the issue,” Ford said. “They had their way on the offensive glass and their ball pressure is elite.”

Sayles led all Seawolves with 16 points in his highest-scoring output of the season, shooting an efficient 8-for-9 from the floor. Redshirt junior guard Juan Felix Rodriguez also came off the bench to put up a season-high 14.

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For Florida, it was not Castleton who led all players with scoring, but graduate guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr., who put up 20 points and shot 4-for-5 from distance.

Stony Brook gets a tune-up game of its own in its final non-conference matchup of the season, as the team returns home to go against Division III Farmingdale State on Wednesday, Dec. 29.

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