Stony Brook had won four of five games, but its opponent Saturday night presented a considerably bigger challenge than its previous foes.
For much of the game, the Seawolves proved to be up to that challenge, but they ultimately could not keep up with the America East regular-season champions.
Despite 21 points from Akwasi Yeboah, Stony Brook fell to Vermont, 69-60, in an America East men’s basketball game at Island Federal Credit Union Arena. The Seawolves led for much of the first half and the game was within a basket for the bulk of the second, but an efficient Vermont offense proved its mettle down the stretch to pull away.
Stony Brook finished the regular season 12-18 and 7-9 in America East, but recent results, including Saturday’s game, have the Seawolves optimistic about the upcoming conference tournament.
“We’ve been playing some of our best basketball. We’re going to stay positive and keep at it,” Yeboah said of the team’s mind-set heading into its conference tournament opener Saturday at Albany.
“Even this game, we played pretty well. It just didn’t go our way,” said Elijah Olaniyi, who scored 11 points. “We want to carry that momentum into Saturday.”
Stony Brook kept the high-flying Vermont offense largely in check in the first half, before the Catamounts closed the period on a 9-3 run to go into the break tied at 31.
An aggressive Stony Brook defense made life difficult for Vermont (24-6, 14-1), which came into the game averaging just 10.8 turnovers per game but gave the ball away nine times in the first half alone and finished with 17.
“We were really bothering them on the ball,” Yeboah said. “Elijah did a great job bothering [Vermont guard Trae Bell-Haynes, who had 19 points and five turnovers]. It was a pretty good defensive effort.”
Neither team led by more than three points in the second half until Vermont’s Payton Henson made a three-pointer with 7:58 left to make it 52-48. The basket was part of a 9-2 run that gave the Catamounts a 54-50 lead with 6:54 to go.
Yeboah tied the game at 54 after he was fouled in the act of shooting a three and made all three free throws, but Vermont answered with buckets on its next three possessions to take a five-point lead with 3:35 left.
Stony Brook got back within three after a Yeboah layup with 1:48 to go but that was as close as the Seawolves would get.
“We’ve been playing at a high level for the last 2 1⁄2 weeks,” SBU coach Jeff Boals said. “We really battled and we really competed.”