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Juan Felix Rodriguez, defense pace Stony Brook to OT win

Juan Felix Rodriguez of the Stony Brook Seawolves

Juan Felix Rodriguez of the Stony Brook Seawolves controls the ball against the Fairfield Stags at Island Federal Arena on Friday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The beginning of any basketball season can be a process. Factor in losing your entire starting five and nearly every key contributor and taking the floor without a normal offseason because of a pandemic, a slow offensive start isn’t necessarily a surprise for Stony Brook. But the defensive side was a different story.

In a tightly contested non-conference men’s basketball matchup, Stony Brook defeated Fairfield, 72-69, in overtime at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Friday evening. It was the first men’s basketball game in the arena in 269 days and occurred in front of no fans.

"I’m excited we won," coach Geno Ford said. "I’m excited we showed some toughness. I’m excited we made some key defensive plays, but at the end of the day, wake me up on Dec. 19 with the record. For right now, we just have to get better."

The Seawolves outscored Fairfield 10-7 in overtime, as Tykei Greene scored four of his 14 points in the first 1:36 of the OT.

"We just got to keep fighting, even if things don’t go our way or shots not falling," said Greene, who had 12 rebounds. "I mean, I missed a ton of free throws, but we just have to keep pushing and playing our game and good things will happen."

Stony Brook (1-1) shot 41.3 percent from the field and missed 10 of their first 11 shots of the game, but held Fairfield to 40 percent shooting.

The Seawolves defense anchored the victory late, including forcing a five-second violation followed by a layup from Juan Felix Rodriguez with 33.5 seconds remaining in the second half to tie the score at 62. Stony Brook forced a shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession before a desperation three-pointer missed at the buzzer.

Mouhamadou Gueye had five blocked shots for Stony Brook, including one in OT and one with 1:06 left in regulation.

Fairfield (0-3) had the ball trailing by three points with six seconds remaining in overtime, but the Seawolves defense left the Stags without any semblance of an open shot. Fairfield ended up driving the lane for a layup that went in just after time expired.

"All we talked about was switching every screen and not helping and if they drove in and shot a layup right away, that’s great because then we have the ball up one with three, four seconds to go and they are going to have to foul," Ford said. "And we actually executed the defense perfectly."

But Stony Brook struggled from the foul line, missing more foul shots than it made for the second straight contest. After missing 13 of 25 free throws in an 82-68 season-opening loss at St. Peter’s on Tuesday, the Seawolves missed 17 of 33 foul shots Friday.

"It’s really frustrating," Ford said. "I want to punch myself in the face. I know that if I do that, I will be taken away in a straitjacket, but it’s hard to watch."

Despite the free-throw struggles, Stony Brook heads to St. John’s for a Sunday matinee off a victory.

"It was an (accomplishment) but we have to learn from the first game and even this one, too," said Rodriguez, who led Stony Brook with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. "Even though we won, we have to take it step by step and keep working together to get to the level we want."

New York Sports