The hot hand. Living by the three and dying by the three. Finding your stroke and hitting the sweet spot.
However you term it, the cliches about streaky shooting are as big as basketball itself, and unfortunately for Stony Brook, it has been finding itself on the wrong side of them lately.
After back-to-back losses that cost the Seawolves first place in the America East Conference, Stony Brook rediscovered its groove Saturday, defeating Hartford, 86-77, at Island Federal Credit Union Arena to move into a second-place tie with UMBC, which beat the Seawolves earlier in the week.
Sophomore Elijah Olaniyi had the game of his college career with 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Akwasi Yeboah had 16 points and 14 rebounds. Andrew Garcia had 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
“Extra time in the gym, early morning, late nights,” Olaniyi said was the key after two straight losses. “In practice, Coach incorporated more shooting. Nobody on the coaching staff can help us put the ball in the basket, so it’s that everybody that can shoot the ball . . . [spent] extra time in the gym, and it really showed in this game.”
Stony Brook (18-5, 6-2) turned things around early, shooting 50.0 percent in the first half and 8-for-15 from downtown. Compare that to the previous two games (the Seawolves’ first back-to-back losses of the season, and their first losses in conference play): Against UMBC on Wednesday, they shot 30.9 percent from the field and 9.1 percent from three-point range. Against Vermont the previous Saturday, they shot 30.8 percent.
“Our coach always encourages everybody to shoot,” Garcia said. “There’s no moment where someone gets on another person for shooting too much or taking a bad shot or if they miss a lot. It’s keep on shooting . . . keep on shooting. You always want to keep that confidence in everybody . . . There’s no negative energy.”
Olaniyi was nearly unstoppable early on, surpassing his career-high 19 points by halftime with 20. His three from the top of the key with 12:41 left in the first half broke a tie at 9, the last tie of the game. His long left-wing three about four minutes later opened a 10-point lead and brought the crowd to its feet.
Miles Latimer got in on the long-range action, too, hitting back-to-back treys midway through the half. The Seawolves went into halftime leading 41-28.
Hartford (11-12, 4-4) took off on a 10-2 run early in the second half, but two free throws by Garcia and a putback dunk by Jeff Otchere mostly extinguished the threat. All told, Stony Brook responded with a 13-0 run of its own, good for a 22-point advantage.
Hartford got within 79-72 on a pair of foul shots with a minute left, but Yeboah’s arena-rattling dunk with 27 seconds to go punctuated the SBU victory.
“I’m just really proud of our response coming off of two losses,” coach Jeff Boals said. “We haven’t had to face that type of adversity this year . . . I thought we came out with a sense of urgency and a great mindset.”