For the past year, all that Stony Brook had to do was look toward UMBC and realize that anything is possible. That feeling is as alive as ever now that the Seawolves have beaten last season’s March Madness history-makers and taken a strong hold on second place.
Stony Brook beat UMBC, 78-63, at Island Federal Arena Wednesday night and moved 1 ½ games ahead in the race for second. Second place in America East can be quite a launching pad. That is where UMBC finished in the regular season last year before winning the conference tournament and becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed (Virginia) in the Big Dance.
So, who knows what can happen for the Seawolves (23-6, 11-3). They have a chance to tie for first at Vermont on Saturday. For now, they will savor the game they played at home Wednesday, when they did just about everything right at just the right time.
Akwasi Yeboah scored 16 points, including 10 in a row midway through the second half when the Retrievers (18-12, 10-5) were making a run. Elijah Olaniyi scored 15 and Andrew Garcia had 14, many of them on drives in the first half, when Stony Brook was pulling away.
“We know what’s at stake right now, how the game affects our seeding. It was positive because we had five guys in double figures,” Yeboah said. “Anything is possible. Don’t count a team out. If you have the right mentality and you work together, you can achieve your goal. That’s what we’ve got going right now.”
Olaniyi said, “Everybody was hitting shots early, seeing the ball go through the basket, that helped. Especially against them.”
“Our guys have done a great job all year of playing in the moment,” Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals said before the game. “Our destiny is in our own hands, we control our situation.”
The Seawolves did well with the ball in their hands in the first half. Having made only 2 of 24 three-pointers in a 57-49 loss at UMBC last month, they shot 6-for-15 in taking a 40-29 lead at intermission this time. Their outside shooting was complemented by the driving of Garcia, who had a team-high nine points in the half.
But UMBC is known for its defense, having held Virginia to 21 points in the first half last season. True to form, it held the Seawolves scoreless for the first 4:18 of the second half. Stony Brook always had a response. The one that produced the biggest roar was a steal by Jaron Cornish (10 points, five assists), who drove downcourt and made a slam dunk that put the Seawolves up 67-54 with 5:10 left. Last March’s first-round Cinderella never really got back into it after that.
One win in the last two games will give Stony Brook the No. 2 seed, and the top seed is not out of the question, either. That is the sort of thing that can make a team think big.
“This late in the season, it’s pretty much the team with the most cohesiveness, the team that wants it the most,” Olaniyi said. “Anything can happen come March.”