After 21 years, the America East chapter of the Seawolves’ history book has officially been closed.
The Stony Brook men’s basketball team led the entire way and took down the NJIT Highlanders 87-68 at Island Federal Arena on Tuesday, Mar. 1, capping off a whirlwind of a season filled to the brim with off-court dramatics and complications.
“It was really a gratifying end to the season, to be quite honest,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “It’s fair to say the month of February, in the 25 years I’ve coached, I’ve never been through a more difficult season, for obvious reasons. It’s a really good team sitting in that locker room and they wanted to go out the right way.”
Departing seniors ended their potential college career with great nights, as guard Omar Habwe put up 20 points and seven rebounds, his most scoring in a Seawolves uniform, while forward Jaden Sayles had an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double, the first of his career. The duo undoubtedly went out on a high note.
“I just felt like I was locked in,” Habwe said. “I was talking to my trainer before the game, and we were just talking about the best memories I’ve had in my college career. I guess that just made me think of all the games I’ve played in … and it showed up on the stat sheet.”
Both Habwe and Sayles cited playing in front of their family as a motivator to perform their best in the waning moments of their collegiate career.
“My mom came up from down in Cincy to watch these last couple games. It was good to play good in front of her,” Sayles said. “As far as my last game, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. It’s going to hit me probably next week when I’m sitting there and just working out, only not being able to play.”
Ford disclosed that Stony Brook (18-13, 10-8 AE) would “100%” be able to play in a postseason tournament such as the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). The team held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue and give the senior players a voice in the decision, but a season-ending back injury to forward Frankie Policelli would leave the team with limited numbers.
“We can’t have a deal where not everybody wants to do it,” Ford said.
Ultimately, Stony Brook decided not to pursue any postseason tournament play.
For now, the Seawolves have a lot to relish in based on the show they put on in their regular season finale. Guard Tykei Greene continued his scorching end to the season with another 27-point, 12-rebound double-double while not missing a single triple attempt.
With guard Anthony Roberts out after two quick fouls, Greene completely took over the Seawolves’ offense to start the contest, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes. With the Stony Brook lead at 15-5, Greene had doubled up the Highlanders’ output up to that point.
In what is becoming an every-game occurrence, he lit up Island Federal with a slam dunk, capping off a chaotic sequence by receiving a close-range pass from guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore. Greene promptly followed with a 3-point play and ended the first half with 17 points and seven rebounds as Stony Brook led 39-28.
NJIT (11-17, 6-12 AE) made just two of its 10 attempts from distance before halftime.
Roberts shot 2-for-7 in the first but did not stay cold for long. He made five of his first six baskets in the second half, including several tough shots as usual, and ended with 17 points and six assists. Looking to add another play to the highlight reel, he lobbed it up to Greene for a flawless alley-oop that was emblematic of how the Seawolves’ offense was rolling on Tuesday night.
The Seawolves made 13 of their first 18 second-half (72.2%) field goal attempts. With Stony Brook driven by the energy of the players who were in their last collegiate game, the Highlanders never had a chance. Stony Brook finished one point shy of its season high by shooting 52% and out-rebounding NJIT 42-30.
After struggling on the glass all season long, the Seawolves put up +22 and +12 margins in their final two games, and ended the season by winning the rebound battle in seven straight.
“There must have been something they put in the water,” Sayles said. “We were out there getting them.”
The season has come full circle. After a stretch of poor play so draining that it caused multiple key players to leave the team midseason, those who stayed could close out the Seawolves’ season with back-to-back strong outings.
“It shows the toughness that the guys that are still here have to stick it out, because we had the option to pack up, we could have quit, but guys didn’t want to do that, so we finished it up and I’m proud of everybody,” Sayles said.
According to Ford, Stony Brook’s roster defections following the postseason ban could have been worse. Nevertheless, he was confident that the Seawolves would have won over 22 games this year had it not been for what transpired.
“Not only did some guys [leave the team], but there are guys that finished playing that were very much on the fence and needed to be pulled in to continuing just personally,” he said.
Whatever awaits the Seawolves from now on will not involve the America East anymore, as the program’s two-decade-plus relationship with the conference ends on a rather bitter note.
“Stony Brook’s going to be in the CAA. I wish the best of luck to my guys, this team and the program,” the departing Sayles said. “They were good to me and I just wish the best for them.”