Before this season started, there was a temptation to think that it was all but over for Stony Brook. The Seawolves understandably were expected to write off the year as a time for rebuilding and retooling, and were picked in a conference poll to finish seventh.
Except that in their minds, they still were and are the defending champions. Yes, they lost their coach as well as their greatest all-time player and several other key core members from the squad that finally reached March Madness. What they have not lost so far, though, is a game on the America East schedule. With one of their more impressive performances, they beat Hartford, 80-64, Thursday night and improved to 5-0 in the conference.
So the Seawolves’ start does not qualify as a surprise anymore, at least not to them.
“I think people are just adjusting to roles and getting more comfortable with each other and figuring out what Coach wants us to do on the floor,” said senior Lucas Woodhouse, who continued his assertiveness and sharpshooting, going 4-for-5 on three-pointers and 7-for-9 overall for 18 points. “Our practices have gotten better. Each day we’re focused just on the task at hand and the next opponent. I think we’re trusting Coach and what he wants from us.”
What first-year coach Jeff Boals wants most is what he is getting: focus, confidence and a memory just long enough. “What we try to do is get our guys to have a one-game mentality. And that being said, use preseason pick No. 7. I tell them all the time, don’t have a chip on your shoulder, have a boulder,” he said. “We had a coach tell one of our other coaches, ‘Hey, we thought you guys wouldn’t win more than three games this year.’ ”
Whoever that was had not counted on the development of center Tyrell Sturdivant, understudy last season to Stony Brook’s all-time star, Jameel Warney. Sturdivant has come to believe in his own ability and has shown a knack for taking over a game, such as scoring 10 points in the first 4:38 of the second half as Stony Brook (10-8) went up 54-41.
“I think I’m just more confident in myself and knowing I can play at this level. That helps me play hard and finish layups, the little things,” Sturdivant said before praising teammates Junior Saintel (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Akwasi Yeboah (14 points, eight rebounds) for effort that resulted in 17 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points.
The Seawolves stifled Jalen Ross, the conference’s leading scorer for Hartford (6-14, 1-4). He was averaging 20.8 points but had 14, shooting 3-for-12.
“Guys have been pretty locked in and focused on scouting report, attention to detail. That’s been really impressive to me,” Boals said. “We’re not good enough to come in and not prepare. I think the mentality has been really good.”
The record is not bad, either.