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Stony Brook men’s basketball wins low-scoring conference opener

Small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore shoots a three-pointer from the corner against Norfolk State on Dec. 13. Stephenson-Moore led the Stony Brook men’s basketball team with 21 points on Thursday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

In a very defensive game, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team’s offense turned it up in crunch time to start off Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) play on the right foot.

Now winners in six of their last seven games, the Seawolves (8-6, 1-0 CAA) won their CAA opener 62-53 on Thursday night against the Northeastern Huskies (5-9, 0-1 CAA) up in Boston. Both teams shot under 40% for the game, but Stony Brook’s 53.9% shooting from the field in the second half gave it the cushion it needed to secure the important win.

The Seawolves stumbled out of the gate, shooting just 2-for-14 from the field during the first eight minutes. During that time frame, Northeastern jumped out to a 15-6 lead thanks in part to an aggressive dunk and a smooth three-pointer by small forward Masai Troutman. The Huskies went hard downhill to collect their points, scoring 12 of their 15 from in the paint.

Facing what wound up being its largest deficit of the night, Stony Brook bowed its neck and equaled Northeastern’s physicality, clogging up the paint and passing lanes on defense. Several stops on defense and successful trips to the free-throw line from center Keenan Fitzmorris and small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore got the team back within a possession.

After cutting their deficit to three points, the Seawolves fell into a four-minute, 21-second scoring drought, allowing Troutman to grow Northeastern’s lead to seven with a pair of inside finishes. With just over two minutes left in the first half, Stephenson-Moore snapped the cold streak by draining a triple, sparking an 8-0 run. Point guard Aaron Clarke finished the run by hitting both a deep three and a tough floater in the paint on the next two possessions, giving them their first lead of the night.

Northeastern center Chris Doherty and Fitzmorris each traded a pair of free throws in the half’s final minute, giving Stony Brook a 24-23 lead by the break. Head coach Geno Ford was pleased with the way his players fought back against the Huskies’ toughness.

“We knew it would be a tough game,” Ford said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics. “They are extremely physical and they did a good job of defending us, especially in the first half.”

The second half saw the Seawolves explode on both ends of the court to take full control of the game. After a second-chance layup by Doherty tied the game at 27 apiece, Fitzmorris broke the tie for good with a thunderous reverse dunk through contact plus the foul. He completed the three-point play and sparked a 22-9 run that saw Stephenson-Moore take charge of the offense. Stony Brook’s star wing scored 10 points during the stretch with a pair of threes and two fast-break layups — one of which came after he picked Troutman’s pocket.

During the opening 10 minutes of the second half, the Seawolves made more field goals (nine) than they did in the entire first frame (seven). The run gave them a 49-36 lead with 9:46 remaining.

Just over a minute and a half later, power forward Andre Snoddy walled off Troutman down low and hauled in an offensive rebound with one arm after Stephenson-Moore missed a three. After shaking himself free of Troutman, Snoddy softly floated the ball right back in to give Stony Brook a 14-point lead — its largest of the night.

After that, the Seawolves’ offense went quiet, but the damage had already been done. Northeastern continued to drive the lane while looking to get easy layups, but Fitzmorris, Snoddy and center Chris Maidoh locked the paint down. The Huskies’ lack of jump shooting came back to bite them, as they failed to capitalize on any of the space they were given from mid-range or three-point territory.

The closest the game got over the final eight minutes was eight points, as Stony Brook coasted to victory.

Stony Brook’s .375/.313/.750 shooting line slightly edged out Northeastern’s .333/.222/.750 triple slash. The rebounding and turnover battles were both even at 41-41 and 13-13, respectively. Ultimately, it was the Seawolves’ one extra three-point make and six extra free throws made that were the difference.

Stephenson-Moore had a big night, leading all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-for-5 from deep. In addition to his offensive efficiency, Stephenson-Moore recorded one block and three steals on defense. Clarke was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, totaling 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting and pulling in seven boards. Snoddy led the team with 10 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass.

Fitzmorris did most of his damage from the charity stripe, as he scored 13 points while shooting just 3-for-8 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. As for point guard Dean Noll, he had a bad night, going scoreless in 25 minutes played while shooting 0-for-8 and 0-for-3 from three. However, Noll led the team with three assists and racked up two steals.

Troutman led the Huskies with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting while also collecting nine rebounds. Doherty posted a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Stony Brook will return to Island Federal Arena to host the reigning CAA champions — the Charleston Cougars — for its conference home opener on Saturday. The Cougars are 10-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play after beating Hofstra 73-61 on Thursday. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 6:31 p.m.

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