When Stony Brook center Tyrell Sturdivant attended a sold-out J. Cole concert at Nassau Coliseum in August, a good part of his excitement was knowing that he and his team would be headliners there three months later. The whole idea is even more thrilling now that the time has arrived for the Seawolves, who will play Maryland on Friday night in the first college basketball game of the Coliseum’s new era.
“It’s a beautiful arena,” the senior said. “Being brand-new, it will be a great experience.”
Specifically, it will be major. That will be a treat and a challenge for Stony Brook, which surprisingly finished tied for second in the mid-major America East Conference last season and is retooling again after losing top scorer Lucas Woodhouse and guard Roland Nyama to European professional leagues.
Coach Jeff Boals’ team is diving into the deep end with a tough non-conference schedule, starting with the opener Friday against a team that tied for second in the Big Ten.
“We always get excited for any game, especially a high major game,” said Sturdivant, a holdover from the squad that played Kentucky in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. “It’s a chance to get on a national stage and show the country what we’re about. You really get to measure yourself. [Maryland is] from one of the best conferences in America, so you get to measure yourself where you are personally and where you are as a team.”
There is no telling what to expect because Maryland lost top scorer Melo Trimble and others from a squad that beat Stony Brook, 77-63, in College Park last November. The Seawolves have five newcomers, including 6-8 freshman Anthony Ochefu, who has witnessed basketball in buildings much larger than the Coliseum. He was courtside at NRG Stadium in Houston as his brother Daniel helped Villanova win the 2016 national championship.
“It just elevated my level of play, knowing the work my brother put in to get to that point,” the younger Ochefu said. He has practiced extensively against Daniel, who played for the Wizards and now is with Maine of the NBA’s G League.
He added that in choosing Stony Brook, “I really focused on the fact I wanted to start my own path.”
Boals is continuing the path he began as a first-year head coach in 2016-17 and is upbeat about the Coliseum date. He went there to watch his former Ohio State recruit, D’Angelo Russell, play a preseason game with the Nets and was impressed. He said the Maryland game will be good for his team, the university and Long Island.
Returning guard UC Iroegbu thinks it might represent a taste of March. “For me especially, as a senior, every game counts. I’m always appreciative to put the jersey on,” he said. “But when you play the big teams, I think you do get a little extra excitement. God willing, if we make it to the [NCAA] Tournament, these are the type of teams we’ll play.”