The run to the regular-season finish line wasn’t smooth for Stony Brook. There were extenuating circumstances, though — Elijah Olaniyi’s ankle.
The Seawolves had some issues without their leading scorer and best defender after he suffered a high ankle sprain at the start of a seven-game closing stretch that included only three wins. Olaniyi missed five games before returning off the bench in Tuesday’s loss at UMBC.
The junior guard returned to the starting lineup Saturday night at Island Federal Arena in an America East Tournament quarterfinal game against seventh-seeded Albany. He’s still missing some of his explosiveness, but he contributed eight of his 11 points in the second half, and Makale Foreman paced five double-figure scorers with 23 in the second-seeded Seawolves’ 76-73 win.
“[Olaniyi] being out has been a real problem,” coach Geno Ford said. “The first half, he struggled. But the second half, he looked more like the old Elijah.”
Stony Brook (20-12) will host third-seeded Hartford (17-15) in Tuesday night’s semifinals.
“I think this group is real hungry,” Foreman said. “Last year, I know we went out in the first round. So I know some players from last year are ready for this year. We just showed it.”
Albany (14-18) trailed by two at halftime and by eight with 11:40 left, but it kept up the chase. When Cameron Healy (28 points) sank back-to-back three-pointers, the score was tied at 66 with 4:46 remaining. Then Healy made it a personal 8-0 run, driving for the lead with 3:39 on the clock.
Foreman’s three-pointer tied it at 70. Brent Hank’s free throw gave the Great Danes a 71-70 lead with 1:15 to go, and he rebounded his missed second shot, but Antonio Rizzuto missed a three-pointer out of a timeout. Miles Latimer grabbed the rebound, Hank fouled him and Latimer hit both ends of a one-and-one for a 72-71 Stony Brook lead with 51.9 seconds left.
After Albany’s Kendall Lauderdale missed a foul-line jumper, Foreman grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws for a 74-71 lead with 25.1 seconds left.
Healy made a layup with 6.3 seconds remaining, but Albany fouled Andrew Garcia at 5.2 and he hit two shots to make it 76-73. Rizzuto’s desperation three-pointer hit the rim and bounded away at the buzzer.
“The second half, that’s as well as we’ve played in months, arguably all year,” Ford said.
The Great Danes led by seven in the first half before Mo Gueye gave Stony Brook a lift. The 6-9 junior forward, who finished with 14 points, scored six straight to cut Albany’s advantage to 24-23.
“Geno trusts all of our players . . . to make sure you’re ready to contribute and just do what you’ve got to do,” Gueye said. “So when my number was called, I just felt like I had to step up and do what I had to do.”