Akwasi Yeboah, a redshirt freshman from Chigwell, England, knew immediately that he had a reward awaiting him after helping Stony Brook with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “It was my first double-double,” he said. “My barber told me if I got a double-double, I’d get a free haircut.”
He and the rest of the Seawolves earned an even greater treat by extending their stunningly successful start with an 83-73 home victory Wednesday night over UMBC. They get to look forward to a huge America East matchup Saturday with Vermont, the first-place team at 7-0 in the conference and resounding preseason favorite to win the title.
Lucas Woodhouse, who led Stony Brook with 23 points and made 9 of 9 free throws to maintain his nation-leading pace (.952), said, “It will be fun to go at the top team in our league, I think it’s going to be a fun game to play in. We know they’re a really good team and they defend really well so we’ve got to focus these next two days in practice.”
The last time Stony Brook faced Vermont at Island Federal Credit Union Arena (site of the 7 p.m. game this Saturday), the Seawolves made themselves into national darlings by winning the conference and finally reaching the NCAA Tournament. This is a vastly different Stony Brook team, one that has improved much more quickly than expected.
Rare was the person who foresaw the Seawolves with a 6-1 conference mark, or the emotional wherewithal to recover from a tough loss in Binghamton Sunday, build a 21-point lead and withstand UMBC’s rally to within one. “It had been 25 days since we had that feeling of losing,” coach Jeff Boals said. “We’re battle tested, we’ve been in a lot of close games. Our guys didn’t break. I think that’s a sign of a pretty mature team.”
These Seawolves (11-9) overall benefit from the development of Yeboah, who showed again Wednesday night that he is a solid threat beyond the arc and in the paint. “We’re going to go to him,” Boals said.
When things got rough in the second half, Stony Brook relied on center Tyrell Sturdivant (16 points). No shock there. But they got massive contributions from UC Iroegbu, the junior transfer who had his first double-digit scoring game (12 points) on assertive and timely drives, and Bryan Sekunda, coming off a serious knee injury, who hit a corner three with 11:37 left that put Stony Brook up by five and turned the momentum for good.
None of them looked rattled. “We’ve been in that situation many times this season so we maintained our calmness,” Yeboah said. “We just executed what coach told us to do. We played hard on defense, grabbed rebounds, executed on offense.”
It was a win that will be talked about in the barber shop in Coram once Yeboah makes his appointment. The forward said, right after the game, “I’m going to call tonight.”