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Stony Brook begins bid for America East Tournament crown, NCAA bid

Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals directs his players

Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals directs his players during the second half in an 81-53 victory over Maine at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When Jeff Boals rattled off his team’s accomplishments, it surprised even the players.

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team has the most regular-season wins in school history, he said. This season was the first time the Seawolves have ever beaten an SEC team, along with the two Atlantic 10 teams they defeated during their non-conference schedule. Their 13 road wins are the most in the country, and their 40.74 rebounds per game are the most ever by a Stony Brook team. They rank second in the country in total rebounds.

As for the guys who actually did all this stuff — freshmen and sophomores, mostly — “they were like, holy cow, we had no idea,” Boals said. “They’ve done a great job of kind of playing in the moment and going game by game.”

But March is the time of reckoning in college basketball — for introspection, sure, but also for looking ahead. The Seawolves (24-7, 12-4) enter the America East Tournament as the second seed, but their young talent and strong season mean they’re clamoring to climb up the food chain. They were a hair away from claiming the top seed from Vermont before losing to the Catamounts by six points last Saturday, and now they’re trying to earn the school’s second trip to the NCAA Tournament.

It all starts at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Saturday, when the Seawolves take on seventh-seeded Binghamton, which they defeated handily twice in the regular season. A road win over Hartford in the final game of the season guaranteed home-court advantage for the quarterfinals and semifinals.

With only two upperclassmen on the team, they’re among the youngest squads in the conference, but they are ready to prove themselves, said Jaron Cornish, the lone senior.

“They’re excited and they don’t even know what to expect,” he said of his teammates. “Last year, I was just more excited for the moment, no matter what happened. I was excited to go through it. Now I’m more confident in the team. I’m holding them to a higher standard.”

Stony Brook won the America East Tournament in 2016, and last year, as the fifth seed, it made it to the semifinals before falling to Vermont. Now, behind Akwasi Yeboah — the fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder in the conference — and Jeff Otchere, who leads the conference in blocks, Stony Brook has created a reputation for defensive dominance. Sophomore swingman Elijah Olaniyi also has been a revelation for the Seawolves, who have held teams to an average of 65.4 points per game and 39.2-percent shooting.

“I think both ends of the floor, our guys are connected defensively and even offensively,” Boals said. “I think a lot of it is the culture we have. These guys don’t care about player of the week, they care about winning.”

Come Saturday and for the foreseeable future, that’s all that will matter.

Notes & quotes: Otchere was named America East defensive player of the year and Andrew Garcia, who is averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds, was named America East sixth man of the year, the conference announced Friday.

New York Sports