After failing to take the lead for the first 35 minutes, second-half heroics by forward Frankie Policelli helped the Stony Brook men’s basketball team come away with a win.
After failing to pull off a successful rally in their last contest, the Seawolves (4-8) returned to Island Federal Arena on Sunday with a 66-59 victory over the Army Black Knights. This time, their comeback attempt was successful, as they dominated the final four minutes to steal one from their Patriot League foes.
Policelli’s performance saw him post 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, tying his career high. He also pulled down a career-best 19 rebounds, shattering his previous career high of 15. It was the most rebounds by a Seawolf in a single game since forward Jameel Warney pulled down 23 in the 2016 America East Quarterfinal game against UMBC. It was Policelli’s fifth double-double of the season.
“You just have to keep being aggressive,” Policelli said. “We are all going to have our nights. They did a good job getting me the ball in my spots, and I was able to finish.”
The Black Knights were the first to strike, gaining a lead that they held onto for the majority of the game. Army guard Coleton Benson led the way, draining four three-pointers through the first five minutes of the game to give his team a 16-6 lead. The Black Knights took their largest lead of the day less than eight minutes into the game, as buckets from guard TJ Small and forward Matt Dove helped extend their lead to 11 points.
After the Seawolves fell behind 21-10 with 12:37 remaining in the first half, forward Kenan Sarvan sparked a 17-8 run to get Stony Brook back into it. He scored all eight of his points in the period, helping cut the deficit to just two points with 3:08 until halftime. However, in the final seconds of the half, Benson knocked down a pair of free throws to give Army a five-point lead.
After watching his zone defense get picked apart by Army’s speed, head coach Geno Ford made an adjustment at halftime. He switched to man-to-man defense in an attempt to put out the fire.
“That’s what changed the game. We came out in zone,” Ford said in a postgame press conference. “When we have that big lineup out there … [we have] great length and good toughness and willingness to rebound and some shot blocking, but not a ton of foot speed. And they’re a dribble-drive team.”
The Seawolves continued to chip away at the lead in the second half, but they failed to jump in front. Down 50-46 with 6:48 remaining, Policelli took matters into his own hands. He halved the deficit with a driving layup and then knocked down a hook shot on the next possession to tie the game at 50 apiece.
After back-to-back defensive stops that ended in Policelli rebounds, the Seawolves charged down the court and gave it right back to him in the post. He splashed a turnaround jump shot to give Stony Brook a 52-50 lead with 4:59 remaining. Just 35 seconds later, Policelli hit two free throws to double the lead, capping off an 8-0 individual run.
Guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore extended the team’s run to 11-0 after making two free throws, putting the Seawolves up 56-50 with 3:50 remaining.
After having a poor shooting performance, Stephenson-Moore delivered in the closing minutes. He killed the Black Knight’s hopes of a comeback by scoring eight points in the final 3:50 of play, putting the finishing touches on Stony Brook’s victory.
“[Stephenson-Moore] did not really get it going offensively today until the last six minutes of the game, but he jumped up and made a few big ones for us,” Ford said. “Frankie carried us through that second half, but Tyler was the other guy chipping in with big baskets.”
Center Keenan Fitzmorris had his best game in the NCAA. He tied his career highs in points with 14 and blocks with three, while also setting a new career best with nine total rebounds. It was the third time this year that he scored 14 points and his second-straight game with three blocks.
“The preparation from our coaches, letting us know the scouting report and what to expect helps us a ton,” Fitzmorris said. “Especially when you know what the other team is going to do and what to expect. A lot of times they do not deviate from that very much.”
Sunday also saw the return of freshman guard Toby Onyekonwu, who had not played since Nov. 5 against Eastern Washington.
After stumbling out to a dreadful 1-5 start, Stony Brook has played better. The team is 3-3 over its last six games, with two of those losses being by five points or less.
The Seawolves will wrap up the non-conference half of their schedule on Thursday down in Morgantown, W.Va. against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Stony Brook will have its hands full, as the Mountaineers are 9-2 and on a three-game winning streak. They are also 6-0 at home this season after blowing out Buffalo 96-78 on Sunday. They are currently receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches polls.