Forward Jaden Sayles in the Senior Night game against Albany on Feb. 26. The Seawolves won 66-50 against the Great Danes with a crowd of over 3,000 fans. CAMRON WANG/THE STATESMAN

Typically an offensive-driven team, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team locked down shooters to send its senior class off with a 66-50 win over the Albany Great Danes on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Facing a crowd of over 3,000 fans at Island Federal Arena, which head coach Geno Ford called the “loudest crowd of the year,” Stony Brook (17-13, 9-8 AE) clinched a .500-or-better finish in conference play, leapfrogged Albany (13-16, 9-8 AE) in the standings and swept its bitter rivals, while honoring three players in a pregame ceremony: center Alex Christie, guard Omar Habwe and forward Jaden Sayles.

It was also a bittersweet moment — as guard Elijah Olaniyi, whose homecoming was expected to be a fairytale ending to his Seawolves career, never reached senior night, leaving the team weeks ago. Nor did point guard Jahlil Jenkins, who opted to undergo season-ending oral surgery. 

The three graduating seniors who made it to that night were in the starting lineup, and the crowd was behind them all night. 

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“I think before the game, we were trying really hard to make sure that we understood that we were playing for the three seniors,” Ford said.

While Stony Brook started the game poorly and trailed 17-10 as a result of four ugly turnovers, the Seawolves flipped the momentum with a 16-2 run led by guard Anthony Roberts, who facilitated a successful Stony Brook attack in a new role for him, carved out by Jenkins’ surgery.

“It felt good,” Roberts, who ended with a career-high eight assists, said. “I’m used to playing point guard. I played point guard in high school.”

With 6:25 before halftime, Roberts dumped the ball off to Sayles, who threw down an emphatic, two-handed dunk to get Island Federal bouncing. A block by guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore set up a Roberts layup, and forward Mo Diallo rejected a layup by Albany point guard Jamel Horton on the final play of the first to keep Stony Brook up 31-24.

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Albany came in with a jump-shooting mentality, attempting 14 3-pointers in the first half as well several mid-range jumpers. However, strong defense from guards Tykei Greene and Stephenson-Moore on the wing, as well as Diallo and Sayles down low, helped disrupt the timing and the confidence of Albany’s shooters. Stony Brook forced a lot of ugly misses as Albany shot only 31% and 21% from deep.

In a surprising move, Albany came back out in the second half without making a noticeable adjustment. The Danes were still jump-shooting while also playing softly inside. Ford noticed that the Albany defense was leaving them open lanes and had Roberts and company exploit it.

“We tried to keep the ball screens in the middle of the floor,” Ford said. “They were really aggressive on the sidelines, and we hurt them. Anthony Roberts had eight assists and the majority of them were middle-ball screens where we were able to really roll hard down the lane and keep it off the sideline.”

Hurt them inside, they did. Stony Brook scored 36 points in the paint on Albany’s defense, triple the amount that they surrendered. It was evenly dispersed with 20 in the first and 16 in the second, further showing Albany’s lack of adjustment.

“I thought we really communicated well,” Ford said. “We really wanted to protect the paint, and that was a big emphasis for us. And the guys who have been low-percentage shooters throughout the year shot a low percentage … That doesn’t always happen, but luckily it did.”

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A back-breaking sequence for the Danes saw a double-teamed Roberts find Greene, who passed the ball behind the back to Sayles, and another cross-court pass to Stephenson-Moore led to an open three. While there were still 17 minutes left, Stony Brook’s momentum, coupled with its 11-point lead, felt too much to overcome.

On a night honoring him, Christie was able to find the scoreboard and contribute to a Greene steal on defense. He was substituted in one final time to a large roar of applause, and the three seniors all left the court together to a standing ovation.

“It feels real good, you know? I’ve got a couple more of these left, and I’m planning on going out with a bang. But tonight was real fun,” Sayles said. “We beat our rivals, it was a good crowd. It was a good night.”

One of Sayles’ defensive highlights of the night was when he blocked two shots in 11 seconds. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting along with seven rebounds. Habwe also had an impactful night by securing 11 rebounds. For a team that struggled on the glass all season long, the Seawolves dominated on Saturday, out-rebounding Albany 48-26. 

“I think the rebounding played a big deal,” Sayles said. “We did real good on the defensive board tonight, and I think that played a big part in us pulling away with the lead.”

He continued to relish in the glory of his senior-night win, as he gushed about his teammates and their resilience.

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“I was going down and giving everyone hugs. I was really playing for them this year; we were playing for each other,” Sayles said. “We committed a lot this year. It was hard. We got dealt some doo-doo sandwiches. And we just bounced back, and we’re finishing strong.” 

It also helped that Albany shot just 29.7% on the night and 26.7% (8-for-30) from deep. Albany shot better from 3-point range than 2-point range in the second half. Greene’s efforts would not go unnoticed with his league-leading eighth double-double of the year off 18 points and 12 rebounds. Stephenson-Moore had a pair of steals and a pair of blocks to add to his eight points.

The Seawolves will round out their America East tenure against the NJIT Highlanders on Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m. For now, though, Stony Brook can relish in the glory of beating its longtime rival in their final meeting as conference foes.

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