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Stony Brook men’s basketball searching for bounceback at Towson

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team’s bench celebrates against Charleston on Saturday, Jan. 6. The Seawolves will take on the Towson Tigers on Thursday night. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

After letting an upset slip through its fingers, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team has the chance to right its wrongs against one of the league’s most physical teams.

The Seawolves (8-7, 1-1 CAA) will travel down to Maryland to face off against the Towson Tigers (8-7, 1-1 CAA) on Thursday, with opening tip-off set for 7 p.m. This game figures to be a polar opposite of Stony Brook’s previous one, as Towson is the second-best defensive team in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA).

The last time these two teams met, the Tigers handed the Seawolves their first-ever conference loss as members of the CAA.

Neither team has been great on offense, with Stony Brook’s 71.9 points per game ranking ninth in the conference compared to Towson’s 66.1, which ranks dead last out of 14 teams. Despite this, the Seawolves do have several seasoned veterans to pick up the slack. 

Small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore leads Stony Brook with 15.5 points per game, placing him eighth in the CAA. His 47.0% field goal percentage ranks sixth in the conference, while his 44% clip from three-point range leads all qualified shooters. Point guard Aaron Clarke is second on the team with 12.9 points per contest on 38.4% shooting from the field and 34.4% from deep.

After those two is the red-hot center Keenan Fitzmorris, who is averaging 11.2 points per game on a .550/.400/.800 shooting line. He has cracked double-digit scoring figures in eight-straight games. His 7-foot frame allows him to make an impact on the offensive glass, where ranks amongst the CAA’s top five in offensive rebounds.

Other threats to score are shooting guard Jared Frey, point guard Dean Noll and center Chris Maidoh. Frey is shooting 42.9% from three-point territory on 70 attempts. Noll is a former All-Ivy League selection that profiles as a scoring guard, and he just snapped a bad shooting slump with a good performance against Charleston. He will look to continue to improve upon his 8.5 points per game on 35.3% shooting from the field. Maidoh is a 6-foot-10 big with good inside scoring skills, as he is averaging 8.1 points per on 51.9% shooting.

Stephenson-Moore, Frey and Clarke will all look to stay hot from deep. Their efforts have the Seawolves shooting 35.2% from three this year — the fifth-highest rate in the CAA. Towson’s three-point defense has been good, holding opponents to a 31.7% clip from beyond the arc.

Clarke, Frey and Noll facilitate their offense. Clarke averages 2.2 assists per game and Frey leads the group with 2.4. Noll’s 27 assists are the second most on the team.

The Tigers’ excellent defense is as physical as it gets. They allow the second-fewest points per game (64.5) while holding opponents to just 43.1% shooting. Center Charles Thompson is their defensive anchor, as he is the CAA’s second-leading shot-blocker at 1.5 rejections per game. He is also third in the CAA in defensive and total rebounds per game with 5.5 and 8.6, respectively.

Thompson does all this despite being just 6-foot-7, making him one of the shortest centers in the conference. However, relative to their positions, his teammates are all tall, which gives them an advantage on the glass.

Shooting guard Nendah Tarke is 6-foot-4, small forward Christian May is 6-foot-5, small forwards Messiah Jones and Tomiwa Sulaiman are both 6-foot-6 and power forward Tyler Tejada is 6-foot-8. Power forward Mekhi Lowery is slightly shorter than a typical four would be, but his 6-foot-6 frame has not hurt him, as he is ninth in the conference with 1.1 blocks per game. Thompson’s backup — center Chase Paar — is 6-foot-10.

Those players use their height well, as Towson ranks second in the CAA in total rebounds per game (40.4) and leads the conference in offensive boards per contest (15.8). The Tigers do a great job boxing out and flagging down long rebounds as well, giving them the highest rebound differential per game (10.3) in the conference. Limiting their opponent’s second chances is how they have been able to win games, as they have already played eight games with fewer than 10 offensive rebounds allowed.

Stony Brook is an average rebounding team, currently placing sixth in offensive (10.9) and total rebounds per game (36.7) in the CAA. Maidoh leads the squad with 6.1 rebounds per game, which is 11th most in the conference. Power forward Andre Snoddy is not far behind Maidoh with 5.9 boards per contest, followed by Fitzmorris’ 4.6.

Defensively, the Seawolves surrender 73.1 points per game, which is seventh in the CAA. Much of the defensive success belongs to the splash plays provided by Noll and Maidoh. Noll leads the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Maidoh is their best defender and averages over a steal and a block per game. Fitzmorris is averaging exactly one block per game since being inserted into the regular starting lineup after beginning the season as a top bench option.

The team also received a boost last Saturday when small forward Sabry Philip finally got an extended run and played well. Philip is one of the team’s best transition defenders, while Stephenson-Moore is a very impactful off-ball defender.

However, Stony Brook being a middle-of-the-road team defensively is surprising when considering its struggling shot defense. The team is allowing opponents to make 36.8% of their threes, which is the third-worst figure in the CAA. Opponents are shooting 44.0% from the field against the Seawolves, which is fifth worst in the conference.

One of the five worst perimeter defenses gets to face one of the worst jump-shooting teams in the CAA, as Towson is bottom three in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. The team is missing power forward Marcus Watson, who transferred in during the summer but suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. Watson spent the last two years with North Carolina A&T and averaged 13.4 points per game on 40.7% shooting from the field.

On an even lower note, the Tigers are one of the 15 worst free-throw shooting teams in the NCAA, as they make just 63.1% of their foul shots. Stony Brook is the only other team in the conference shooting below 70% from the free-throw line, currently sitting at 69.6%.

May leads Towson with 11.9 points per game on a .390/.352/.526 triple slash. Power forward Tyler Tejada is the team’s second-leading scorer at 10.6 points per game on a .415/.333/.769 shooting line. The only other viable three-point shooter is Sulaiman, who has made 34.8% of his three-pointers.

Point guard Dylan Williamson and Tarke both try to space the floor, but they have not found their stroke from deep yet. Williamson is shooting 26.5% on 4.5 three-point attempts per game, while Tarke is shooting 29.2% on 4.8 tries per contest.

Despite the poor shooting around him, Williamson facilitates the offense effectively. His 3.5 assists per game are the sixth most in the CAA. On defense, he has fast and twitchy hands, allowing him to grab a team-leading 19 steals. Tarke is an elite defensive wing who missed the first nine games of the season, but since he has returned to the floor, he has racked up 12 steals in just five games.

If Stony Brook can leave with a win, it would be the program’s first-ever victory over the Tigers.

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