Mere hours before tip-off, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team learned that the America East was stripping away its ability to participate in the conference playoffs, the only feasible path to the NCAA Tournament.
The elephant in the room was evidently on the Seawolves’ minds as they came into the game deflated and were unable to recover from a poor start, ultimately taking a 77-61 home defeat to the Binghamton Bearcats on Wednesday, Feb. 2.
“Most definitely [it affected us],” guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore said in a postgame press conference. “As a team, we tried collectively to come out in the second half and push it all behind us. We should have pushed it before the game, but we didn’t want it to affect us in the second half.”
Stony Brook (13-8, 5-3 AE) committed five turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game, putting the team in a hole that set the tone for the rest of the contest.
“We weren’t taking care of the ball early and it got us off to a bad start,” head coach Geno Ford said. “It just kind of set the tone offensively for a very clunky performance.”
Binghamton (9-10, 6-4 AE) pulled away, guided by the strong drives to the basket of their point guard Jacob Falko, who ended with a game-high 29 points. For Stony Brook, whose calling card all season has been its offensive weaponry, it certainly felt as if the gameplay was affected as a result of the external noise. The ball movement was stagnant and the Seawolves were content to settle for chucking away 3-point shots, attempting 17 of their 30 first-half buckets from beyond the arc.
Stony Brook made just five of those attempts, including empty performances from reliable shooters like guards Anthony Roberts and Elijah Olaniyi, the latter making his return to the court after a four-game absence. Binghamton led by 16 before Stony Brook scored the final five points of the first half to make it a 40-29 game, aided by a flagrant foul called on Bearcats guard John McGriff against Seawolves guard Jahlil Jenkins.
“We’re 5-2 to start the league and we’ve taken a lot of quick-trigger 3-point shots,” Ford said. “I don’t ever always love those … but I’m way more disappointed in the 9-for-28 on twos.”
The Seawolves were able to whittle it down to a six-point game halfway through the second, but never got any closer as the offense remained unable to crack Binghamton’s zone. Even when the Bearcats started to get cold from the field, the Seawolves remained just as freezing. Binghamton had to take both McGriff and guard Christian Hickinson out with four fouls, but the Seawolves were still unable to get anything going offensively.
Within striking distance, Falko stripped the ball away from guard Tykei Greene and fired away a fastbreak 3-pointer to put Stony Brook in a 13-point hole with only six and a half minutes to go.
“We couldn’t guard the Falko kid at all and we didn’t defensive-rebound well,” Ford said. “Our two issues have been keeping the ball in front with a guard and defensive rebounding, so they exposed the two things we’ve been bad at.”
Ford also noted how his players held the ball for half a second following defensive rebounds instead of immediately advancing it, which affected Stony Brook’s transition offense. Yet when that one issue was resolved, the Seawolves missed on the three transition 3-pointers they did get.
Stephenson-Moore led the Seawolves with 15 points on a career-high five triples. His shooting was a bright spot on a night where uncharacteristically, Roberts and Jenkins went 2-for-13 and 3-for-11, respectively. As a whole, the team shot just 32% compared to Binghamton’s 46%.
“It hurts,” Stephenson-Moore said about the America East’s decision. “Hopefully something good happens and it changes and we’re allowed to play, but it definitely does suck. But we’ve got to keep pushing. We still have games to play.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Ford.
“My job is to take care of the players, get them in a good place mentally and support them,” he said. “Let the administration handle that other issue … The reality is, we’ve still got 10 games left and we haven’t lost two in a row since Kansas. I’ve liked our mental toughness all year. This is a real time where we just need to rely on it.”