In a tale of two halves, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team picked up its first win over a Division I opponent this season.
After playing a very poor first half, the Seawolves (3-7) flipped the script on the Sacred Heart Pioneers to pick up a 71-64 victory on Monday at Island Federal Arena. They were a different team after halftime, as they went from trailing by three possessions to winning by that same amount.
After shooting only 23.3% as a team in the first half, Stony Brook trailed 33-24. The only thing that kept the team in the game was their defense; the unit held Sacred Heart to just 37.1% from the field and forced seven turnovers. However, the Pioneers knocked down six of their 16 three-pointers to help distance themselves from the Seawolves.
The second half began with a bang for Stony Brook when center Keenan Fitzmorris threw down a vicious one-handed slam on a pick-and-roll play. The dunk sparked a 12-3 run that cut the deficit to just two points. The Seawolves went on a scoring streak in the paint that also helped open opportunities from deep.
The increase in physicality and success in the paint came from a halftime adjustment by head coach Geno Ford.
“We were 4-for-17 on twos, and we gave up nine offensive rebounds in the first half. So halftime was more about being tougher,” Ford said in a postgame press conference. “We played how you’re supposed to play in the second half.”
Stony Brook continued to make highlight-reel plays while on the comeback trail. Guard Tanahj Pettway scooped up a long rebound before going coast-to-coast and banking in a layup through a foul. He converted the and-one, cutting the deficit to just one with 13:20 left.
Just 25 seconds later, Pettway won a race for a loose ball that saved his team from a turnover. The Seawolves then turned the near-disaster into three points when forward Kenan Sarvan buried a corner three to take a 46-44 lead.
After Sarvan’s lead-taking three-pointer, the game was very back-and-forth. The lead changed eight times and the score was tied another four times. Sarvan hit two more three-pointers during that timespan, both of which gave Stony Brook the lead back.
With just 2:43 left in the game, forward Frankie Policelli put the Seawolves in front for good with a putback layup. A minute later, Fitzmorris gave them all of the momentum by slipping past a defender and throwing down a two-handed jam. Stony Brook went up by three points and scored the final eight to secure the victory.
Fitzmorris and Sarvan were instrumental in the Seawolves’ comeback. Sarvan led them in scoring with 16 points, shooting 6-for-12 overall and 4-for-9 from deep. He scored 11 points during their second-half resurgence. He credited guard Aaron Clarke’s facilitating and shot-creating for his clutch second half.
“Once you hit two shots in a row, you want to get the ball again because you’ve got the hot hand,” Sarvan said. “When AC [Aaron Clarke] is back, he sees the court so well. He drags the guy all the way to the side … That’s what he did for me and he got me great shots.”
Fitzmorris scored 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting. Ford was complimentary of the two for their play thus far this season.
“Honestly, these two guys have been good for us all year,” Ford said. “Fitz has had a great year. Sarvan’s had an awesome year, too. On a team that’s got seven guys in uniform for the last six weeks, there aren’t a lot of places to turn. Thankfully, they’ve been consistent.”
The first and second halves were night and day for Stony Brook, as the team nearly tripled its shooting percentage and doubled its scoring input. The Seawolves shot 60% from the field and 40% from deep in the second half and outscored Sacred Heart 47-31.
Monday night’s game saw one of the better defensive performances by Stony Brook this season. The team held the Pioneers to just 36.5% shooting and 32.4% three-point shooting. The Seawolves’ defense got better as the game went on, allowing just a 35.7% shooting percentage and a 27.8% three-point percentage after halftime. They also forced a season-best 14 turnovers.
“I thought down the stretch, we were good,” Ford said. “The last two media segments, we really played well. They’re going to make shots. For us, it was a hard game to defend because they had some good shooting. I thought a lot was going against us to be honest. That’s why it was such a good win, in my opinion.”
The Seawolves will look to win their second in a row on Thursday when they travel to Staten Island, N.Y. to take on the Wagner Seahawks. The Seahawks are 4-4 this season and have lost two in a row after falling 72-59 at Fordham on Tuesday.