Stony Brook came up short of the 20-win mark the previous two seasons after an impressive five-year run in the 20s. The Seawolves nearly lost 20 last time around, but they have staged one of the country’s biggest turnarounds and have found their way back to 20 wins again.
They beat UMass Lowell, 76-65, Saturday night at Island Federal Credit Union Arena for their third straight victory, making them a 20-5 team.
“I think 20 wins is obviously big for our program,” said Jeff Boals, who saw Stony Brook go 18-14 and 13-19 in his first two seasons as coach. “To be 20-5 right now with the schedule that we’ve played, I just couldn’t be happier with our guys.
“If you really look at it, we haven’t used the excuse of being young all year. We have one senior, one junior and the rest freshmen and sophomores. These guys don’t play like freshmen and sophomores.”
The senior was at the forefront of getting them to No. 20, the 14th time it has happened in the program’s history.
Jaron Cornish turned in the best scoring game of his two-year Stony Brook run, coming through with 30 points, the best by any Seawolves player this season. The point guard contributed his own 9-0 run that turned the game in the second half. He also had six rebounds and four steals.
“I think the big key was Jaron Cornish was phenomenal,” Boals said.
Elijah Olaniyi added 15 points and eight rebounds and Akwasi Yeboah had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
So the Seawolves swept the two-game regular-season series and improved to 8-2 in America East play, allowing them to remain a game behind first-place Vermont.
UMass Lowell fell to 13-12 overall and 5-5 in the conference. Christian Lutete paced the River Hawks with 19 points and 14 rebounds.
“Stony Brook’s a really good team, one of the best teams in our league,” coach Pat Duquette said. “They’re bigger, stronger, more athletic than us.”
Still, UMass Lowell trailed by just two at halftime and led 48-47 before Cornish took charge. He scored on a layup and turned it into a three-point play, then hit a three-pointer from the left wing, made a steal and completed his 9-0 burst with another three to make it 56-48 Stony Brook.
“I wouldn’t say I needed to take charge, but I had a hot hand and my teammates were finding me, and they were telling me to go and keep going,” Cornish said.
After the lead got down to 58-54, Olaniyi, Cornish and Yeboah drove for baskets to open it up to a 10-point margin.
When Lutete converted a layup, it was down to 68-62. But Jordan McKenzie hit a free throw and Olaniyi drove for two with 2:21 left. The River Hawks cut it to seven, but Cornish countered by nailing two free throws with 1:43 remaining.
“We’re a high-powered team,” Olaniyi said. “Really, anybody in the starting five, even guys on the bench, could go off on any night.”
Notes & quotes: The Seawolves wore red jerseys with names on that back that belonged to children treated at the new hospital, Stony Brook Children’s. Afterward, the players gave the jerseys to those kids. “It meant a lot, actually, to us,” Olaniyi said.