Headlined by a lowly first half, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team had one of its worst showings of the season.
The Seawolves (8-15, 4-6 CAA) bottomed out in their return to Island Federal Arena on Thursday, as they were dismantled by the Elon Phoenix 69-55. Without the presence of their co-captain and leading-scorer Tyler Stephenson-Moore, the Seawolves found themselves one step behind a team that had not won a game on the road all season long.
Facing off against a team with only one previous win against NCAA Division I competition, Stony Brook was no match for the cellar-dwelling Phoenix. Two emphatic dunks by center Keenan Fitzmorris were the only scores that the Seawolves saw during the first nine minutes and 40 seconds of play. A wide open three-pointer from Elon forward Max Mackinnon capped off a 22-4 opening run by the Phoenix. Stony Brook shot just 14.3% from the field and misfired on all five of their three-point attempts during that stretch.
Head coach Geno Ford was upset with the morale of his team in the first half and pointed to mental obstacles as a culprit in the team’s poor performance.
“I thought in the first half, we were lethargic and a step slow on everything,” Ford said in a postgame press conference. “When you are mentally not with it, it is hard to physically make plays. Defensively, I mean, we were just as bad as you could ever be.”
Elon kept its foot on the gas for the rest of the first half, shooting a scorching 55.9% from the field and 57.1% from deep in the frame. Elon guards Jerald Gillens-Butler and Zac Ervin scored 10 points apiece on a combined 8-of-14 shooting. A layup by Elon forward John Bowen with 19 seconds remaining put the Seawolves down 46-22 by halftime.
Stony Brook showed some life in the second half, nearly doubling its shooting percentage from 27.6% in the first half to 48.0% in the second. Guard Toby Onyekonwu scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting after halftime and connected on both of his three-point attempts. Forward Leon Nahar scored all six of his points in the final 20 minutes. This helped the Seawolves slowly chip away at the lead and outscore Elon in the second half, but the efforts of the freshmen duo were not enough to overcome their dreadful start.
After having a career day against Hampton on Saturday, forward Frankie Policelli contributed in multiple areas. The graduate student recorded 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block on Thursday. Despite this, he struggled to get into a rhythm and shot just 33.3% both overall and from three-point territory.
“They played pretty good defense on me,” Policelli said. “They sent two [defenders] sometimes, so it kind of messed up my rhythm a little bit. I got good looks, I just missed them. It was one of those days.”
Fitzmorris ended the night with nine points, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts. The Stanford transfer also recorded two rebounds, two blocks and two steals on Thursday. He attributed the Seawolves’ loss to their lack of resilience.
“There are certain things you can control and certain things you can not control, and I felt that we let the things we could not control affect the things we could,” Fitzmorris said. “When shots are not falling or when the other team is on a run, we can not let that affect our body language, our attitude or our effort.”
Onyekonwu tied his career-high in points with 14 on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. He also dished out three assists, pulled down four rebounds and made a new career-high four three-pointers.
Being without Stephenson-Moore — who went down with an injury against William & Mary — the Seawolves’ offense stagnated. The senior was third in the country in minutes per game (37.4) prior to his injury, and nobody managed to step up in the absence of the team’s leading-scorer.
Ford acknowledged that the loss of Stephenson-Moore is a big blow to Stony Brook, but it was no excuse for its first-half collapse.
“That is the elephant in the room,” Ford said. “Tyler not being out there hurts, but we have enough talent out there to win this game and we just did not bring it in the first half at all.”
Ford said during the press conference that Stephenson-Moore is not close to making a return. It is unclear if he will play again this season.
Elon had four double-digit scorers in the win. Gillens-Butler ended with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Mackinnon scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and center Sam Sherry tallied 13 on 6-of-9 shooting. Ervin contributed another 10 points.
The Seawolves will look to bounce back from their disappointing loss on Saturday when they travel to Hempstead, N.Y. to take on the Long-Island rival Hofstra Pride. The Pride are 16-8 on the season and 9-2 in conference play. They are tied with Charleston for first place in the conference, and are responsible for knocking the Cougars out of the AP Top 25 after upsetting them 85-81 last Saturday. Hofstra won its last game 76-72 over Towson on Thursday, and have won four games in a row. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.