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Stony Brook men’s basketball challenges Charleston for CAA title

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team’s bench cheers for the players on the court against Delaware on Saturday, March 2. The Seawolves will take on Charleston for the conference title tomorrow. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

With each passing day, the stakes continue to rise for the seventh-seeded Stony Brook men’s basketball team, who will take on the defending Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) champions in the title game.

The 2024 CAA men’s basketball tournament will conclude on Tuesday night between the Seawolves (20-14, 10-8 CAA) and the top-seeded Charleston Cougars (26-7, 15-3 CAA). The championship game will commence at 7 p.m. at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. The game will be aired on CBS Sports Network.

Stony Brook has not won a conference championship or been to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 2016 when former power forward Jameel Warney carried it there. As for Charleston, it won the 2023 CAA men’s basketball tournament with relative ease and won the regular-season title this year.

The two teams last met on Jan. 6 and engaged in a track meet, with the Cougars besting the Seawolves 93-87 at Island Federal Arena. This time around, they will meet for history.

If Stony Brook is to win its first-ever CAA championship in men’s basketball, it will have to keep up with Charleston’s high-powered offense. The Seawolves have the guns to do it, but they will need all of them to be on their game on Tuesday after getting mixed performances against third-seeded Hofstra on Monday.

Stony Brook ranks fourth in the conference with 73.4 points per game. It is not a very efficient team, as its .438 field goal percentage is the ninth-best rate in the league. However, the Seawolves are excellent from the perimeter, as their .354 three-point percentage is second in the CAA.

Another important part of Stony Brook’s Cinderella run is its free-throw shooting, as each of the last two games have gone down to the wire. The team has made 74.4% of its free throws, which places fourth in the CAA.

The Seawolves’ offense is led by small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who is the conference’s eighth-leading scorer with 16.3 points per game on a .441/.426/.851 shooting line. He was selected to the 2023-24 All-CAA Second Team. Stephenson-Moore played all 40 minutes against Hofstra and 45 the night before against second-seeded Drexel, so someone else is going to need to help the likely-tired star.

Point guard Aaron Clarke has been a solid second option all year long and has been instrumental this postseason. Clarke is averaging 14.0 points per game on .415/.351/.785 shooting splits. He is the team’s leading facilitator with 2.9 assists per game but had none on Monday night.

Shooting guard Dean Noll rounds out Stony Brook’s starting backcourt. Noll averages 10.4 points per game and owns a .407/.368/.800 triple slash while ranking second on the team with exactly two assists per contest.

Clarke and Noll were still able to catch their breath in the semifinal game, as shooting guards Jared Frey and Toby Onyekonwu spelled them for several stretches. Clarke played just 27 minutes while foul trouble helped limit Noll’s total to just 24. They may get touches depending on how Stephenson-Moore is feeling.

Center Keenan Fitzmorris — a 7-foot scoring threat — averages 10.8 points per game while shooting 51.0% from the field and 77.4% from the free-throw line. Fellow center Chris Maidoh has unlocked another level of his offense, as he is averaging 19 points on 70.8% shooting over the last two games. Overall this year, Maidoh is averaging 7.8 points per contest on 56.5% shooting.

Frey is another weapon, as he has made 37.2% of his three-pointers this year, which is the second-best rate on the roster. He is third on the team with 1.9 assists per game. With the fatigue likely setting in on the other guards, his performance will be key. He shot 0-for-6 from the field and missed all three of his attempts from deep on Monday.

Onyekonwu missed his only shot in the semifinal game, which was a deep three-pointer. If both he and Frey can make the most of their minutes, then the Seawolves will have as many viable scoring threats as the Cougars.

Though small forward Sabry Philip is a defensive player, he is a good finisher. His .532 field goal percentage trails only Maidoh on the team’s leaderboard.

Charleston leads the CAA with 80.4 points per game. Similarly to Stony Brook, the Cougars are not as efficient by the conference’s standards. They are eighth in the league in both field goal (.443) and three-point field goal (.342) percentage.

Shooting guard Reyne Smith — an All-CAA Second Team selection — leads the Cougars with 12.5 points per game on a .414/.395/.868 shooting line. Three-point territory is his comfort zone, as he has attempted 261 threes this year.

Behind Smith is center Ante Brzovic, who earned 2023-24 All-CAA First Team honors last week. Brzovic is 6-foot-11 and uses every inch to his advantage in the paint, as he is averaging 12.3 points per game on 47.5% shooting from the field. He is second on the team with 2.4 assists per game.

Small forward Ben Burnham — a 2023-24 All-CAA Third Team member — is third on the team with 11.6 points per contest while shooting 46.0% overall and 37.3% from deep.

Rounding out Charleston’s starting lineup is point guard C.J. Fulton and power forward Frankie Policelli, a former four-year Stony Brook player.

Fulton quarterbacks the electric offense with the third-most assists per game (4.2) and the best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.4) in the nation. Fulton is a pass-first guard, as he has the exact same number of points as he does assists. However, he is a good three-point shooter, as he owns a .342 three-point percentage.

Policelli is a three-point specialist who averages 9.3 points per game while shooting 33.9% from deep and 82.3% from the charity stripe.

Small forward Bryce Butler was named the 2023-24 CAA Sixth Man of the Year and is averaging 8.4 points per game while shooting 52.2% from the field and 45.9% from three.

Point guard Kobe Rodgers is also one of the better bench players in the conference, as he averages 9.6 points per game on .508/.412/.793 shooting splits. Rodgers is more of a downhill scorer, as only 34 of his 191 field goal attempts have come from three-point range. He also makes plays, as his 2.1 assists per game are the third-most on his team.

Also off the bench is 6-foot-11 center James Scott, who was selected to the 2023-24 CAA All-Rookie Team. Scott is unstoppable down low, as he has shot 79.8% from the field this year. However, he can be hacked, as he has made just 40.9% of his 44 free throws this season.

Head coach Geno Ford — who is searching for his first career title with the Seawolves — commended the Cougars’ deep offense.

“They’re a great team,” Ford said in a postgame press conference on Monday. “They have a ton of depth. They’re just going to keep coming at you in waves and waves and waves.”

Shooting guards Jordan Crawford and Khalil London complete Charleston’s regular rotation. Crawford is a talented jump-shooter, but he has struggled to just a .364/.323/.760 triple slash. As for London, 67 of his 101 shots have come from beyond the arc. However, he has shot just 30.7% from the field and 28.4% from deep this year.

Stony Brook has played good ball on defense this year, especially in the tournament. The Seawolves rank sixth in the CAA with 72.0 points allowed per game. Their .422 opponent’s field goal percentage is the fourth-best rate in the conference. However, their .344 three-point field goal percentage is the fifth-worst figure in the league.

Stephenson-Moore has played good defense this year, as his 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks per game are the best numbers of his career. Noll leads them with 1.3 steals per game. Philip will also chip in on the wing to try and limit the damage on the perimeter.

Maidoh is Stony Brook’s best defender, as he leads it in combined steals and blocks (60). He also leads the team in defensive rating (100.0), defensive box plus-minus (1.8) and defensive win shares (1.2). His 0.9 blocks per game rank 10th in the league. Fitzmorris leads the team and ranks eighth in the CAA with exactly one rejection per contest.

As for the Cougars, their defense is not as stout. They are just ninth in the CAA in points allowed per game (72.3) and eighth in opponent’s field goal percentage (.440). They defend the three-ball well, as their .332 opponent’s three-point percentage is the sixth-best rate in the conference.

Charleston does not make many plays on the ball, ranking just ninth in blocks (3.1) and sixth in steals (6.2) per game. Rodgers leads his team with 1.2 steals per game, followed by Fulton with 1.1 and Burnham with 0.9. Scott leads the Cougars and ranks fifth in the conference with 1.4 blocks per game. Outside of Scott, the closest shot-blocker on their roster is Burnham with 0.5 per game.

What Charleston lacks on defense, it makes up for on the glass. The Cougars lead the CAA with 39.5 rebounds per game. Brzovic paces them with 6.3 boards per game, followed by Policelli with 5.2, Rodgers with 4.6 and Burnham with 4.5. Butler contributes 3.6 rebounds per contest off the bench, and Scott chips in another 3.5.

The Seawolves are also very effective on the boards, as they rank fifth in the league with 36.6 rebounds per game. Power forward Andre Snoddy leads them and ranks ninth in the CAA with 7.2 boards per contest. However, Snoddy left Monday night’s game with a lower-leg injury and did not return, leaving his status up in the air.

After Snoddy, Maidoh averages 5.5 rebounds per game, followed by Fitzmorris with 4.3. If Stony Brook is without Snoddy, it will need Stephenson-Moore and Clarke to continue to be active on the glass. Stephenson-Moore is averaging 3.8 boards a night, followed by Clarke with 3.6. Over the previous two nights, Stephenson-Moore has hauled in eight per game while Clarke has chipped in another 7.5.

If the Seawolves are able to shoot the ball the way they did in the last meeting between these two games (55.6% from the field, 42.1% from three), then they will have the chance to win it. If their defense can hold Charleston beneath the .559/.448/.778 shooting splits they surrendered on Jan. 6, then they may very well go dancing.

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About the Contributor
Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson, Sports Editor
Mike Anderson is the Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a senior majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports comes from his time spent as a baseball player. As a reporter for The Statesman, he has covered baseball, softball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men's and women's lacrosse, women's volleyball and hockey. He has also interned at Axcess Sports as a high school and college baseball and softball reporter. He is a local product from Port Jefferson, N.Y. and is a diehard Mets, Jets, Nets and Islanders fan.
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