The debut of guard Aaron Clarke was not enough for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, as it fell to 0-6 against NCAA Division I competition.
The transfer from Sacred Heart had a great return from injury on Saturday, yet the Seawolves (2-6) still fell 77-72 to the Yale Bulldogs. The team brought plenty of energy to Island Federal Arena and played some of their most efficient basketball of the season, but stayed one step behind the whole time.
Stony Brook snagged the lead in the opening minutes when forward Frankie Policelli found guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who promptly flushed away a dunk. However, Yale went on a 7-0 run and never relinquished the lead.
The Seawolves remained within striking distance, cutting the score to just two possessions on multiple occasions. Good all-around offensive play helped the Seawolves keep the game competitive, as they shot 47.6% from the field and 44.4% from deep. However, Yale forward EJ Jarvis scored 11 points in the first half to help his team take a 42-36 lead into halftime.
“I think this is something we could build on,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame press conference. “We looked the part tonight, and that’s really … the first time we’ve looked like we can be a good team.”
Both teams continued to trade buckets in the second half, but the Bulldogs extended their lead to 13 points after multiple empty possessions from Stony Brook. However, the Seawolves did not let their opponents run away. Hot three-point shooting by Clarke, Stephenson-Moore and forward Kenan Sarvan sparked a 13-2 run that cut the deficit to two with 7:18 remaining.
Guards Tanahj Pettway and Kaine Roberts also chipped into Stony Brook’s three-point barrage, adding to the team’s seven connections from deep in the second half. The team combined to shoot 11-for-20 from three-point range on the night, which was good for a season-best 55%.
Stony Brook cut the score to 72-70 with just 1:06 left thanks to clutch free throw shooting from Clarke and Stephenson-Moore.
After a pair of free throws from Yale forward Matt Knowling extended his team’s lead to four, the Seawolves pushed the ball up the court quickly. Stephenson-Moore missed the mark on a three-pointer, but Policelli grabbed the offensive rebound and put in a layup that made it a two-point game.
After Yale guard Bez Mbeng made two more free throws, Stony Brook had one last chance to strike. Clarke drove the lane and put up a scoop-shot with his right hand, but Knowling was there to erase the attempt to seal the win for his team.
“[Knowling] made a heck of a block,” Ford said. “We had a few looks that did not quite go, but you are not going to make them all.”
Perhaps the biggest bright spot in this loss was Clarke’s 2022-23 season debut. He injected life into a Stony Brook offense that has struggled mightily this season. In his Seawolves debut, the former All-Northeastern Conference selection played 22 minutes off the bench and scored 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
Sidelined with a back injury, Clarke was not expected to suit up this early in the season. Ford said he was surprised by the play of the graduate student.
“I can not believe what Aaron did knowing what I have watched,” Ford said. “It is hard for me to summarize the impossibility of what I just saw him do. I have never seen a guy do that in 30 years of college basketball, literally be off for eight weeks and go out and contribute on the level he did.”
Though Stony Brook played its best game of the year, turnovers proved to be the biggest factor in its loss. The team turned the ball over 12 times, surrendering 17 points off them. Yale only coughed it up five times, giving up only three points off turnovers.
“We tried to value the ball,” Ford said. “It’s a one-possession loss, so one less turnover would have made the difference.”
Despite the loss, there were many bright spots in the Seawolves’ performance. Stephenson-Moore finished with 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting and seven rebounds. He also shot 9-for-9 from the charity stripe. It was his third game with 20 points or more this season.
Stephenson-Moore did not see the bench the entire night. He played all 40 minutes in hopes of helping his team to a win.
“I’m tired, but I feel good,” Stephenson-Moore said. “I feel way better than I did after the last game, but fatigue is going to hit me tomorrow.”
The Seawolves shot just under 45% for the night and also made 82.6% of their free throws (19-for-23). Ford was pleased with the performance of his team, citing Saturday’s matchup as the best they had played this season thus far.
“I think that is the best we have looked by far,” Ford said. “Obviously our job is to win games, but we took a huge step forward.”
Though Stony Brook got healthier on Saturday night, the team still has a long way to go. Clarke was on a minutes restriction on Saturday, and Sarvan was a gametime decision. Luckily, both had productive nights and avoided getting re-injured.
The Seawolves will look to rebound on Friday, as they will head back to Rhode Island to take on the Bryant Bulldogs. Bryant is 7-3 on the season coming off a 97-71 loss to Cincinnati.