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Poor ball movement handicaps Stony Brook men’s basketball at UNCW

Guard Toby Onyekonwu shooting a jumper against William & Mary on Thursday, Feb. 16. Onyekonwu dropped a double-double in a loss to UNCW on Thursday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

In a game where it had few troubles shooting the ball, 19 turnovers ultimately prevented the Stony Brook men’s basketball team from pulling off an upset.

In their penultimate regular season game, the Seawolves (10-20, 6-11 CAA) traveled down south to challenge the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Seahawks on Thursday. Though they gave the conference’s third-place team a run for its money, they ultimately fell short 76-69.

The first half was electric, with both teams shooting over 50% from the field. Stony Brook fed the ball to center Keenan Fitzmorris early and often, as he scored the team’s first eight points through the opening four minutes. But, a steal by UNCW forward Trazarien White set himself up for an easy fast-break slam, tying the game 10-10 with 14:43 remaining. This sloppy and costly turnover foreshadowed the rest of the game for Stony Brook.

The Seawolves’ careless ball security saw them commit 13 turnovers in the first half alone. UNCW punished them for their negligence, scoring an extra 14 points off those giveaways. Though it shot 60% in the first half, Stony Brook entered halftime trailing. 

Guard Toby Onyekonwu came to Fitzmorris’ aid and had a spectacular first half as well. His efforts helped Stony Brook stay within striking distance of UNCW, as the team only trailed by five points at the end of the first half. Fitzmorris and Onyekonwu combined to score 28 of their teams’ 36 points during the first frame.

Both teams traded shots back and forth in a very competitive second half. Neither team scored more than five consecutive points in the second half, as both teams had an answer for one another. The only thing that the Seawolves had no answer for was UNCW guard Jamarii Thomas, who scored persistently during the final 20 minutes. 

Thomas scored 16 points in the second half on 4-of-6 shooting. He also went 2-for-3 from deep and knocked down all six of his free throws after the break. His torrid finish helped lead UNCW to a victory, giving it sole possession of third place in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

After the game, head coach Geno Ford gave his players credit for a valiant effort and pointed to poor ball control as the main culprit for the loss.

“We competed our tails off,” head coach Geno Ford said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics. “We just continued to have turnovers that led to run-outs. Toby and Fitz had good ballgames. We just have to keep at it and hopefully get the turnover issues resolved.”

Stony Brook had a shot to come from behind, but could not find the equalizer — let alone take the lead back. A pair of free throws and a jumper by guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore cut Stony Brook’s deficit to just two points with 4:22 remaining. UNCW responded with back-to-back layups from guard Nick Farrar and Thomas, and the Seawolves never got that close again.

Once times got desperate, Stony Brook started to intentionally foul. The Seahawks closed their opponents’ comeback window and knocked down their free throws to seal the win.

Fitzmorris and Onyekonwu led the way for Stony Brook. Fitzmorris finished the night with a career-high 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting. He also went 1-for-3 from deep and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line. Along with his scoring, he tallied seven rebounds and two blocks. But, his seven turnovers proved to be costly. 

Onyekonwu posted the first double-double of his career, notching 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds.

Despite being held scoreless in the first half, Stephenson-Moore was able to close out the game with a strong second half. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting and hauled in five boards.

Three UNCW players enjoyed double-digit scoring nights. Thomas led all scorers with a career-high 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting and threw in five assists. Guard Donavan Newby finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a team-leading six rebounds. All of his scoring was done from three-point range, as he went 5-for-7 from deep. White added another 13 points for the Seahawks and led them with six assists.

Stony Brook was significantly less efficient while moving the ball than UNCW was. The Seawolves racked up only eight assists while coughing it up 19 times, while the Seahawks dished out 16 assists and only turned it over seven times.

That turnover differential wasted several advantages for Stony Brook. The team shot 51.9% overall, which was over nine points better than its opponents. The Seawolves also won the rebounding battle 38-27.

Stony Brook will stay on the road for its regular-season finale against the Charleston Cougars. The Cougars are 27-3 overall this year and 15-2 in conference play. They have won six in a row after beating Towson 83-75 on Thursday. Charleston will be entering the game battling Hofstra for the top seed in the CAA.

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