Stony Brook needed to take care of lowly Maine to maximize the importance of its next two conference games.
After losing at home to rival Albany on Thursday, the Seawolves improved to 10-3 in America East play and 22-6 overall with an 81-53 win over the Black Bears on Saturday night at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
Stony Brook, which clinched a home game for at least the first round of the conference tournament, moved into second place in the America East before head-to-head clashes with third-place UMBC (10-4, 18-11) at home on Wednesday and at No. 1 Vermont (12-2, 22-6) next Saturday. The Seawolves will visit Hartford on March 5 to conclude the regular season.
Conference teams have gone 23-5 in home playoff games — including a 5-1 mark for Stony Brook — since the America East began playing tournament contests at school sites in 2014-15.
“I thought it was a great response from our guys from Thursday until tonight, and I thought we played efficient on both ends,” Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals said. “We talked about it on Friday that it’s a four-game season . . . if we win out, we’re the No. 1 seed, win the league, maybe it might be a tie. But that’s our goal and that’s not changed.
“Now it’s a three-game season, and we’ll go one at a time, but that’s a big game on Wednesday.”
Akwasi Yeboah scored a season-high 27 points and Elijah Olaniyi contributed 16 points and eight rebounds for Stony Brook. Isaiah White led Maine (3-10, 5-23) with 18 points.
Jaron Cornish, the lone senior on the Stony Brook roster, added 13 points and six assists on senior day for the Seawolves. The native of the Bahamas is ranked fifth in the school’s Division I history in assists with 3.1 per game.
“Before the game, everyone was telling me to have fun. I only have a few games left at Stony Brook, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Cornish, whose parents and siblings made the trip from the Bahamas to watch him play for the first time in his college career. “We’re focused on UMBC on Wednesday night and then move forward from there.”
Stony Brook, which made the NCAA Tournament in 2016 behind star Jameel Warney, has won 18 straight games against Maine, including a 64-61 win on the road in January.
Saturday’s victory started sluggishly with sloppy offensive play from both sides. Maine held a 16-14 edge at the midway point of the first half.
Cornish sank two of his three first-half three-pointers to fuel an 18-0 surge punctuated by Olaniyi’s one-handed putback dunk for a 32-16 lead with 4:22 left.
The Seawolves finished the half on a 29-7 run, including a midcourt steal and slam by Cornish. He and Yeboah scored 13 points apiece and Olaniyi had 12 as Stony Brook built a 43-23 halftime lead.
“It was a special day with senior day for Jaron and it gave us even more motivation,” Yeboah said. “We knew we had to play well to affect our seeding for the playoffs. We came out with the mentality of ‘refuse-to-lose’ and we responded positively and stuck to the game plan at both ends of the floor.”
Notes & quotes: Stony Brook sophomore Jeff Otchere was ejected two minutes into the second half for a flagrant foul on a dunk by Maine’s Andrew Fleming, who suffered a broken wrist.