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Stony Brook men’s basketball needs win versus much-improved Monmouth

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team goes to the sideline during a timeout against Hofstra on Monday, Jan. 22. The Seawolves will host the Monmouth Hawks on Thursday night. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After dropping another game in the exact same fashion, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team is in need of a win before it gets too late.

The Seawolves (9-10, 2-4 CAA) will face the Monmouth Hawks (10-9, 3-3 CAA) at Island Federal Arena on Thursday night. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 6:31 p.m. Both teams find themselves in similar situations this season as middle-of-the-pack teams in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA). Last season, each side split the season series, with both beating one another on the road.

While the story is similar to last year, the faces have changed for each team. Only three of Stony Brook’s top rotational players from last year have seen significant time this season. Monmouth shooting guard Xander Rice, who transferred from Bucknell this past season, has become one of the best scorers in the nation this year with 21.3 points per game.

While the Seawolves are near the Hawks in nearly every metric, they find themselves lagging behind in the most important one: crunch time. They have been plagued by poor shooting at the end of games, no matter how big or small their lead is. In conference play alone, they have blown double-digit point leads against Charleston, Towson, Delaware and William & Mary, losing against the first three. Against Hofstra, they went up by as many as nine points but were outscored 28-17 in the final 10 minutes to ultimately lose the game.

Stony Brook will have to find its version of Rice, who has stepped up whenever his team needs a bucket. 

Rice has set the CAA ablaze this year as its second-highest scoring leader. Over his last five games, that number has jumped up to 28.2 points per game and he has made three or more three-pointers in all of them.

Stony Brook’s perimeter defenders will have to stop Rice like how small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore shut down Hofstra shooting guard Tyler Thomas this past Monday. Other than Stephenson-Moore, point guard Dean Noll and small forward Sabry Philip will have opportunities to share the defensive load on the wing. Noll is the CAA’s leader in steals per game (1.8), while Philip is an athletic speedster who defends well in transition. Point guard Aaron Clarke, center Chris Maidoh and Stephenson-Moore also average a steal per game.

The perimeter defense has been leaky this year, allowing a .369 three-point percentage — which is second worst in the CAA.

Rice will not be the only one trying to capitalize off the Seawolves’ defensive woes, as Monmouth’s offense overall is the best three-point shooting team in the conference. The Hawks are shooting 37.5% from deep. It is not only the work of Rice — who is shooting 37.3% from deep on 142 tries — but others such as small forwards Jack Collins and Abdi Bashir Jr. alongside power forward Jaret Valencia.

Collins’ shot diet has been primarily threes, as over two-thirds of his shots are from deep. He has been inconsistent in that regard, posting a .328 three-point shooting percentage on 119 attempts. Collins averages 10.8 points per game, making him the only other double-figure scorer on the team. Valencia has only attempted 22 threes in 19 games, but has made eight of them (36.4%). As for Bashir Jr., the 6-foot-7 freshman has been unstoppable from beyond the arc, making 52.2% of his 67 attempts.

Point guard Jakari Spence runs the show and is fourth in the CAA with 3.9 assists per game. Rice is 10th in the CAA with 3.2 assists per contest.

Another notable threat on offense is center Nikita Konstantynovskyi, whose 6-foot-10 frame allows him to finish inside with the best of them. His 9.6 points per game rank third on the team, and he leads it with a .524 field goal percentage.

Despite the success from three and the effective ball movement, Monmouth’s offense grades rather poorly. It has struggled to finish around the rim this year, leading to a .431 shooting percentage — the fifth-worst rate in the CAA. As a whole, the Hawks’ 71.5 points per game rank only ninth out of 14 teams.

Spence, Rice and Collins are all shooting under 43% from the field, while Bashir Jr.’s two-point percentage is significantly lower than his three-point rate. The 6-foot-8 Valencia has been efficient, shooting 48.4% from the field this year.

Stony Brook’s bigs — center Keenan Fitzmorris and Maidoh — will not make it any easier for the Hawks to finish. In terms of blocked shots, the pair rank ninth and 10th in the CAA, respectively.

The amount of splash plays the Seawolves have made on defense make up for their poor opponent’s shooting numbers. By ranking third in steals (6.7), sixth in blocks (3.3) and sixth in defensive rebounds per game (25.5), they have salvaged the seventh-best scoring defense (72.9 points) in the CAA.

Monmouth’s scoring defense is nearly identical to Stony Brook’s. In fact, it has allowed just one more total point (1,380) this year. The Hawks are fourth in both field goal percentage allowed (.427) and in blocks per game (3.6) while also leading the league in steals (7.4) per contest. Four of their players (Spence, Rice, Collins and Valencia) average over a steal per game. Valencia is the CAA’s second-leading shot blocker with 1.5 per game.

What is holding them back is their rebounding. Though Konstantynovskyi (fifth) and Collins (10th) are both top-10 rebounders in the conference, Monmouth is the fifth-worst defensive rebounding team. The Hawks grab only 24.3 defensive boards per game and have surrendered over 10 second-chance points in each of their last four games, including 23 against Drexel on Jan. 18. Konstantynovskyi leads them with 7.7 rebounds per contest, while Collins averages 6.7. Valencia collects another 4.3 boards a night, while 6-foot-6 power forward Cornelius Robinson Jr. averages 3.6 in just 15.8 minutes per game.

After his best game as a Seawolf, power forward Andre Snoddy became their leading rebounder with 6.6 per game. Maidoh and Fitzmorris have contributed 6.3 and 4.2 rebounds per game, respectively. As a team, they are the fifth-best total rebounding team in the CAA with 36.3 per game.

Stony Brook’s 10.8 offensive rebounds per game are the sixth most in the conference, and its 12 offensive boards on Monday night led to 16 second-chance points. Those second and third opportunities will be vital in giving Stephenson-Moore and others extra tries to put points up. Stephenson-Moore’s 14.5 points per game rank eighth in the CAA. He has done that with decent efficiency, posting a .433/.378/.824 shooting line.

Clarke is the Seawolves’ second-leading scorer with 12 points per game, but he has been very inconsistent. His shooting percentages have dropped to .366 from the field and .311 from deep. In conference play, he is shooting just 35.0%. Fitzmorris is their third-leading scorer with 10.3 points per game on a .511/.308/.776 triple slash. However, after having a stretch of 10 double-digit scoring performances in an 11-game span — including eight in a row — Fitzmorris has been held under 10 points in each of the last four.

Noll’s solid streak continued on Monday with 19 points, giving him an average of 12.8 per game on .451/.357/1.000 shooting over the last five. He is averaging 9.7 points per contest this year. Maidoh is an effective inside scorer, averaging 8.3 points on 53.4% shooting from the field. Shooting guard Jared Frey is a good threat from deep, as he has made 39.0% of his 77 three-point attempts.

Snoddy is also red-hot and just posted his first double-double of the year. He has averaged 8.1 points per game on 68.6% shooting over the last seven games and scored 17 on 8-of-9 shooting last time out.

If Stony Brook’s hot shooters can stay streaking while the bigs can dominate the boards, it may be able to exorcise its late-game woes and earn the win. If it can not win this game, it will need a big run to close out the regular season if it is to finish in the CAA’s top five.

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