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Finally healthy, Stony Brook men’s basketball hopes for major bounce-back year

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team breaks a huddle at practice on Sunday, Oct. 15. The Seawolves are looking to bounce back after a rough 2022-23 season. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Coming off the program’s worst finish in 15 years, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team is shooting for a massive turnaround.

Expectations were low for the Seawolves coming into their first season in the Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA), and they still underachieved. A flurry of injuries to key players left little room for error for the rest of the squad, and the team failed to make something out of nothing.

After finishing last year 11-22 overall and 6-12 in conference play, they were predicted to finish in ninth place for this season in the annual preseason poll. However, the offseason gave Stony Brook a chance to get healthy. Now, with most of last year’s roster back for another go plus a couple of new players added to the mix, the Seawolves are ready to run the gauntlet in the CAA.

Head coach Geno Ford believes that in spite of the low expectations, there are brighter days ahead for his team. 

“We’ve got to get a lot better. Luckily, our personnel is a lot better,” Ford said in an interview with The Statesman. “So I think that we’re going to be more competitive, and we’re going to be a lot better.”

One player who is not happy about the prediction is small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who has returned for his fifth season with the Seawolves. He believes that the team is better than some may think, and that they will be using the ninth-place prediction as fuel all season.

“We definitely felt a little disrespected, but that’s just the chip on our shoulder,” Stephenson-Moore said. “It’s good to know that, if things do go wrong, we have something to look at and say, ‘Yo, they said we’re going to be ninth place. We need to pick some stuff up.’”

Expectations are high for Stephenson-Moore in his final season, being tabbed as a member of the 2023-24 Preseason All-CAA Second Team. Though he appreciated the recognition from the conference’s coaches, he feels that he could have done better.

“It’s always good to get respected, but there’s a lot of unfinished business,” Stephenson-Moore said. “I’m trying to obviously go for first team. It’s good to see some hard work pay off in the long run. I’ve been through an up-and-down career.”

Last season, Stephenson-Moore was selected to the 2022-23 All-CAA Third Team and led Stony Brook in scoring with 14.3 points per game. He was expected to do it all for the depleted Seawolves, being asked to guard the opponent’s best player on most nights while playing the sixth-most minutes per game in the country (37.4).

Starting the season with more healthy bodies than a year ago, Stephenson-Moore should not have to carry that type of load anymore. Point guards Aaron Clarke and Dean Noll are back healthy after suffering season-ending injuries. Clarke only played three games, while Noll never took the floor.

Clarke and Noll will serve as the starting backcourt, and Stephenson-Moore — a shooting guard by trade — will remain at small forward after playing it for most of last season. The pair of All-Conference point guards are bound to improve Stony Brook’s scoring — something they were the second-worst at in the CAA last season. Clarke has over 1,200 career points and an average of 11.8 points per game through five years, while Noll averaged 10.3 in the 2021-22 season with Cornell. The two are also good facilitators, as they both average over three assists per game when placed in the starting lineup.

In their absence last year, shooting guard Toby Onyekonwu was called on to run the offense as a point guard for much of the time. He played in 28 games and started 14 in his freshman season but will be relegated to a bench role this year. However, this is not the worst thing for the sophomore, as he will be able to slide back to his natural position at shooting guard while Clarke and Noll will be tasked with most of the ball-handling responsibilities. He may even become their sixth man.

Despite the deeper guard rotation, Onyekonwu is unlikely to see a drastic drop in minutes. As a freshman, he averaged 7.3 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 34.3% from three-point range and 78.7% from the free-throw line. Freshman point guard Kaiden Space will also see some minutes.

Joining Onyekonwu and Stephenson-Moore on the wing is sophomore shooting guard Jared Frey, who Ford has tabbed as the “best three-point shooter he has ever seen.” Frey only played one game as a freshman: the season opener at Florida. He will likely split minutes between the two and the three this year, as he will be the Seawolves’ three-point specialist this year. His younger brother Peyton — a 6-foot-6 freshman small forward — has also joined the team.

Though the team returned nine players from last year’s roster, one important one is missing: power forward Frankie Policelli. He was Stony Brook’s second-leading scorer and the CAA’s leading rebounder from last season, but he made the move to Charleston for his final year, leaving 13.7 points and 9.4 rebounds to be made up for.

The starting frontcourt is to be determined, but there are many candidates. No matter who is starting at what position, it is certain that plenty of minutes will go to center Keenan Fitzmorris, who played in all 33 games last season and started 29. He was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game, shooting 53.5% from the floor and 28.1% from beyond the arc. He also ranked sixth in the CAA with 31 blocks.

Though this will only be his second full season, Fitzmorris has the experience to be a leader on both ends of the floor in his sixth year of college.

The Seawolves were able to hang their hat on their defensive rebounding numbers last season, pulling down 26.3 per game which was the second-best mark in the CAA. To help replace Policelli’s production in that area, Fitzmorris will have to improve on his ability to clean up the glass.

The 7-footer will look to raise his average of 3.9 rebounds per game from last year and is confident that he and the other big men will be able to make up for Policelli’s loss.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” Fitzmorris said. “I’ve worked on that in the offseason. The key is being aggressive and pursuing it and really being minded to do that.”

Another candidate to start is center Chris Maidoh. The graduate student averaged 4.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 15.7 minutes per game in his four years at Fairfield. At 6-foot-10, Maidoh brings some much-needed defensive versatility to a team that was towards the middle of the pack in the CAA on that end. Ford confirmed that there will be lineups with both Maidoh and Fitzmorris on the floor, meaning that the former will likely play some power forward this season as well.

Ford also said that center Rocco Muratori will get minutes in the big-man rotation this year. In his freshman season last year, Muratori only played 6.5 minutes per game. He is a mountain of a man, standing in at 7-foot-3 and weighing 275 pounds. That size will give the Seawolves a big advantage at the rim while he is on the court.

The most athletically versatile big on the roster is power forward Leon Nahar. The 6-foot-10 sophomore has a clean jump shot and good handles, which convinced Ford to float him around on the wing last year. Nahar is another good distributor, as he put his passing ability on display with a couple of dimes last year. Ford plans to use him more this year after he averaged only 7.5 minutes per game as a freshman. His versatility may lead to him playing all three positions on the frontcourt this season.

Rounding out Stony Brook’s frontcourt rotation will be small forwards Andre Snoddy, Sabry Philip and Ra’Sean Frederick. Snoddy averaged 8.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in his two seasons at Central Connecticut State University. He has a jumper, as he shot 30% from deep last year. He also likes to play team-friendly basketball, as he guards all five positions on defense while also playing a pivotal role in the squad’s ball movement.

Standing at 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, Snoddy will most likely split his time between the two forward positions this year. Though it is unclear if he will be in the paint or on the perimeter more, Snoddy and his coaches are confident that he will be a threat anywhere he is on the court.

“A lot of coaches call me a mismatch threat,” Snoddy said. “Oftentimes when I have a smaller guy on me, I can finish inside on them. But if I have a bigger guy on me, I can beat them off the dribble.”

Philip is an athletic wing who missed all of last year with an Achilles tear that he suffered prior to the start of the season. He is a strong defender and a big-time threat to score when going downhill.

His fast-paced and hard-nosed mentality will likely bring significant change to the team this year.

“On the offensive end, I’m able to make plays and get us extra possessions with offensive rebounds,” Philip said. “I like to play in transition. It starts on defense; you’ve got to get a stop. Any way of getting it: a deflection, a block, a rebound. Just trying to push off that, that’s really my game.”

As for Frederick, he is a 6-foot-5 wing who averaged 11.2 points on 45.5% shooting from the field last season at Hutchinson Community College in the NJCAA.

For the first time in several years, Stony Brook is taking some roster continuity into its next season. With all of the new and old Seawolves entering the upcoming season fully healthy, they have a realistic shot to accomplish what they sought out to a year ago.

Their quest for a bounce-back season begins on Tuesday, Nov. 7 in Queens, N.Y., where they will be hosted by the St. John’s Red Storm. Stony Brook will look to spoil the highly-anticipated debut of new St. John’s head coach Rick Pitino.

Mike Anderson and Alex Streinger also contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Kenny Spurrell, Assistant Sports Editor
Kenny Spurrell is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a senior English major and journalism minor at Stony Brook University. He began covering sports for The Statesman during the Fall 2021 semester. Since then, he has covered men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse and football. His passion for sports derives from his many years of playing basketball, football and baseball. He is a Long Island native from Selden, N.Y. and has dreams of becoming a sports journalist.
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