After falling into a 14-0 hole through the first six minutes, forward Frankie Policelli willed the Stony Brook men’s basketball team to a dominant victory to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Policelli ended the night with 30 points, 20 of which came in the second half.
After ending the regular season with their worst loss in nearly 15 years, the 10th-seeded Seawolves (11-21, 6-12 CAA) bounced back against the seventh-seeded North Carolina A&T Aggies on Saturday in their first-ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) postseason game. After laying dormant in the early stages, Stony Brook dominated the final 35 minutes to secure a 76-61 victory. The team will now move on to the quarterfinals, where it will face the second-seeded Charleston Cougars on Sunday.
The Seawolves got off to a miserable start, missing their first nine shots and allowing the Aggies to build a five-possession lead. The dry spell was broken with a three-pointer from Policelli, who was Stony Brook’s saving grace. A 28-17 finish to the first half foreshadowed a dominant second half for Stony Brook, as Policelli got his team within three points by halftime.
Stony Brook owned the second half, outscoring the Aggies 48-30 to complete the comeback. After intermission, the Seawolves shot 61.5% from the field, 63.6% from deep and knocked down 90% of their free throws.
Defensively, Stony Brook clamped down on North Carolina A&T, holding it to just a .290/.143/.588 triple slash in the second half.
Head coach Geno Ford credited the mental toughness of the team as the key to digging itself out of the hole.
“The start of the game, I don’t know if we were tight, or we were just bad, or we were both,” Ford said in a postgame press conference. “They got up 14 to nothing and our guys just hung in. The energy was really good in the timeouts. We weren’t panicked, which is really key when you get off to a bad start like that.”
Policelli shot 11-of-18 from the field and 6-of-9 from three-point range. He also pulled down 16 rebounds and recorded three steals for his CAA-leading 13th double-double of the season. It was the first 30-point, 15-rebound performance in the CAA tournament since former NBA player and Hall of Famer David Robinson did it for Navy back in 1986.
Once Policelli got points on the board for the Seawolves, the floodgates opened up. Several blocks and steals by Stony Brook’s defense helped swing the momentum of the game, and the offense cashed in on its extra opportunities.
Policelli spearheaded a 17-3 run by the Seawolves and capped it off with a three-pointer. After he knocked down several shots from mid-range, Policelli’s heat-check three-pointer tied the game up at 17 with 8:14 remaining before halftime.
A back-and-forth remainder of the half kept Stony Brook knocking on the door of the lead. Guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore and Policelli each scored 10 points in the opening frame as the Seawolves trailed 31-28 going into the break.
Policelli started the second half just as he had ended the first, connecting on a straight-on three-pointer in the opening seconds to tie the game. After getting a stop on defense, guard Tanahj Pettway beat all five Aggies down the court and scored on a layup to give Stony Brook its first lead of the day.
A pair of layups from guard Toby Onyekonwu and forward Kenan Sarvan kept pressure on the North Carolina A&T defense. Following a score by Aggies forward Demetric Horton, Pettway and Policelli connected on back-to-back three-pointers to complete a 15-3 run. Stony Brook’s lead ballooned to nine points, making it 43-34 with 16:07 remaining.
North Carolina A&T made things interesting at the 13:26 mark when a layup by guard Tyrese Elliott cut Stony Brook’s lead down to seven. However, Policelli extinguished the flames just 24 seconds later by knocking down another three-pointer.
Any hopes of the Aggies coming back were shattered at the 9:46 mark. Following a missed three-pointer by North Carolina A&T forward Marcus Watson, the seas parted for Stephenson-Moore, who drove to the rim and threw down a highlight-reel slam to gain a 16-point lead and put the nail in the coffin.
Given the early deficit that his team faced, Ford was pleased with the effort and morale that Stony Brook showed.
“For us to be able to hang in there through that and persevere, I was really proud of them,” Ford said. “The last time that we were in a tournament game was during COVID. Most of our locker room has not participated in a tournament game.”
After being named to the All-CAA Third Team on Thursday, Stephenson-Moore was critical in the win for Stony Brook. He recorded 14 points, six rebounds and five assists while playing all 40 minutes for the 12th time this season.
Policelli did not receive an all-conference honor this season. Ford said that was used as fuel in Policelli’s Saturday performance.
“I don’t know that there’s another guy in the nation that led a league in rebounding and led a league in double-doubles that wasn’t some type of All-League,” Ford said. “I know he’s used that for some motivation. We’ll need him to use it for some motivation tomorrow.”
Other notable performers for Stony Brook were Onyekonwu, Pettway and Sarvan. Onyekonwu scored seven points, seven rebounds and tied his season-high with six assists. Pettway recorded nine points, two steals and a block. Sarvan scored eight points, shooting 3-for-5 from the field and 2-for-4 from deep.
Woods fueled the Aggies on both ends of the floor all night. The All-CAA Second Team selection recorded 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Seawolves will move on to play the Charleston Cougars on Sunday in the quarterfinals of the CAA championship tournament. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Entertainment & Sports Arena. The Cougars are 28-3 on the season and 16-2 in conference play, coming off a 92-52 beatdown victory over Stony Brook last Saturday.
Ford made it clear that Charleston is not an opponent that should be taken lightly.
“They’re fantastic; as good a team as there is in the country,” Ford said. “It would be criminal if they’re not in the NCAA Tournament. We’re going to have to play a lot better. We’re going to have to play with a lot of energy tomorrow to get those guys, that’s for sure.”
Charleston sits atop the CAA in offense, scoring 81.7 points per contest, which outmatches the Seawolves’ 63.1. The Cougars sit atop the conference in most statistical categories. The only major category that Stony Brook outranks Charleston in is opponent’s field goal percentage (42.7%).