After wrapping up the 2022-23 regular season, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team will appear in its first-ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) postseason tournament this weekend.
The Seawolves (10-21, 6-12 CAA) dropped the last three games of the regular season, topped off by a 40-point blowout loss to Charleston on Saturday. Finishing as the 10th seed in the CAA, they will face off against the seventh-seeded North Carolina A&T Aggies on Saturday in the opening round of the conference tournament. The tournament will be hosted at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.
Both teams will look to settle a best-of-three debate, as the season series was split. In the first matchup on Jan. 14, Stony Brook was unable to hang on to a lead that it held for over 32 minutes of the bout. North Carolina A&T took advantage of the Seawolves’ late-game shooting woes, coming out on top with a 61-59 win at Corbett Sports Center.
The Seawolves got their revenge in the Feb. 11 matchup at Island Federal Arena, as a solid all-around performance saw them take the Aggies down 69-59.
After two nail-biters in the regular season, head coach Geno Ford expects no different as the teams face off for a third time.
“We’ve had two really good, close games with them. I suspect it’ll be a third,” Ford said in a press conference on March 1. “I don’t think we’re good enough to blow them out, and I hope they don’t blow us out.”
North Carolina A&T has been a middle-of-the-road group this season, and much of its success relies on its offense. The Aggies’ offense ranks fourth in the CAA, averaging 71.1 points per game, which outmatches Stony Brook’s 63.1. Their fast-paced play sees them put up the third-most field goal attempts in the conference, averaging 60.3 shots per game. The saving grace for the Seawolves will have to be playing at their own pace to slow the game down, in hopes to not get shot off the court.
Another area that Stony Brook will need to remain strong in is ball security, as its -3.26 turnover margin is second-to-last in the CAA. The Seawolves surrendered 28 total turnovers in the two previous games against the Aggies. North Carolina A&T only turned the ball over 13 total times in those matchups.
Ford cited limiting turnovers as something the team needs to do if they want a chance on Saturday.
“Well, first thing, we can’t turn it over,” Ford said. “We’ve had a difficult time this year remembering what colored jerseys we’re wearing. We tend to just throw the ball to any human we see and that’s been a real problem.”
The Aggies will rely heavily on their scoring duo of guard Kam Woods and forward Marcus Watson on Saturday. Woods’ 17.0 points per game ranks fourth in the CAA. He averaged 18.5 points on 41.4% shooting from the field against Stony Brook this season. Watson’s 14.5 points per game places him 10th in the CAA, shooting 42.7% from the field.
Ford said that Stony Brook will need a little bit of luck to slow down the pair of scorers.
“Watson’s a hard matchup, and Woods makes more hard shots than any guard in our league,” Ford said. “[Watson is] really scary to me because it doesn’t matter how tight you are to him, he’s able to get them off. Hopefully, the guys that can make hard shots have an off shooting night because we’re not going to stop Kam Woods from getting shots up … Watson, same thing.”
North Carolina A&T guard Demetric Horton was the team’s third-leading scorer this year, averaging 11.0 points per game. He is one of the best shooters in the conference, as he shot 46.4% from the field and 44.9% from deep. He was also second on the team in total rebounds and assists.
The Aggies defense is a clear hole that Stony Brook will look to attack. Their 75.4 points allowed per game is the third-worst in the conference, only ahead of bottom-feeders Hampton and Monmouth. Though the Seawolves ranked second-to-last in the CAA in scoring offense, North Carolina A&T’s defensive woes present an opportunity for them to put points on the board.
The captain duo of guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore and forward Frankie Policelli will need to fuel Stony Brook as they have all season long. Stephenson-Moore’s 37.4 minutes-per-game places him fourth in the NCAA. Expect the team’s leading-scorer to play all 40 minutes on Saturday. Policelli’s 9.2 rebounds per game leads the CAA, and he will have his hands full against the fourth-best rebounding team in the conference.
With Stony Brook’s lack of depth, Ford voiced how important the production of the two will be on Saturday.
“Tyler’s probably the best leader that I’ve ever been around,” Ford said. “He’s been in a tough spot. I mean, he plays 40 minutes; we don’t have a backup three-man on the roster that’s healthy. We have a hard time getting them a lot of clean looks because we don’t have guards that have broken down the defense and put people in rotation very often. So I think Frankie and Tyler’s shooting percentages are deceiving because they’re forced to take a lot of hard ones.”
For Stony Brook to come out on top, there will need to be someone else outside of Stephenson-Moore and Policelli to step up. Ford acknowledged guard Toby Onyekonwu and center Keenan Fitzmorris as impactful players who will need to perform against the Aggies.
Onyekonwu shot 35.5% from deep and 75.6% from the free-throw line this year and led the team in assists. Fitzmorris had a career year and was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.6 points per game.
Opening tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Both teams will be looking to pick up their first playoff win in the CAA. The winner of the matchup will go on to play the Charleston Cougars on Sunday at 6 p.m. Charleston finished the regular season 28-3 this year and 16-2 in CAA games, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Hofstra for the top seed.