Saturday night’s game against Brown began like no other this season for Stony Brook. Elijah Olaniyi was parked on the bench.
The Seawolves’ top scorer hadn’t practiced the previous two days because of a neck strain. He called his coach, Geno Ford, at around 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon and said he still couldn’t turn his neck but wanted to play. He soon texted Ford and said he was playing.
Ford sent him in after three minutes of the game had passed, and Olaniyi turned in the best game of his college life.
The 6-5 junior guard lit up Island Federal Arena, hitting six threes and scoring a career-high 30 points to power Stony Brook to a come-from-behind 79-63 win.
“Coming into this game, I actually was a little defeated, just bad timing, upset with myself,” Olaniyi said. “But then when the trainers told me I had an opportunity to play, it was like half of it was mental. I just kept telling myself, ‘Hey, you’re good. You’re good. You’re good.’ ”
He indeed is good. He averaged 12.3 points last season. Now he’s at 19.7 points. He has led the Seawolves to a 7-3 start. This time, he shot 11-for-15 overall and 6-for-8 from behind the arc.
“He does a lot of things really well, but his best characteristic as a person is his toughness, and I love him to death,” Ford said. “And his other characteristic is stubbornness. He is mentally tough. He’s physically tough. He’s just a winner.”
Olaniyi hit a three 22 seconds into the second half to give Stony Brook a 36-27 lead. Tamenang Choh, who paced the Bears with 19 points, countered with a three and a layup to get it down to four.
But Andrew Garcia responded with a three, and the Seawolves began to build the lead again, using a 10-2 run to go up 44-34.
Stony Brook remained in control from there. When Olaniyi hit his sixth three, Stony Brook led by 14 at 58-44. When Miles Latimer hit a three, the margin was up to 17 at 66-49. When Makale Foreman hit a three, the cushion had inflated to 20 at 71-51. The Seawolves finished with 14 threes and 22 assists.
They had been ineffective early in the game. Brown (5-4) grabbed a 20-10 lead, But Stony Brook took over at that point, going on a distance 23-7 run to close the half, good for a 33-27 lead.
“This was an elite offensive performance for where we are in the season,” Ford said.
Foreman chipped in with 17 points. Now the Seawolves have some tough road work ahead — against Hofstra, Providence and defending national champ Virginia.
“I think it’s going to challenge us,” Foreman said. “We’ve got good team chemistry. I think going into this stretch will be good for us.”
Olaniyi said it’s about something else as well.
“I feel like this three-game away [stretch], we have a chance go and earn some respect right here,” Olaniyi said. “In years past, I don’t think anybody respects us. We know the talent we have in our locker room, but I don’t feel like other teams know that. This is a great opportunity to go show that.”