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Stony Brook men’s basketball falls just short of CAA title to Charleston in OT

Small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore (14) fakes a pass while being guarded by Charleston small forward Ben Burnham (13) on Jan. 6. Stephenson-Moore scored 26 points in the championship loss to the Cougars on Tuesday night. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

The Cinderella run was halted for the seventh-seeded Stony Brook men’s basketball team, bringing an end to its season in the 2024 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) championship game.

In heartbreaking fashion, the Seawolves (20-15, 10-8 CAA) took on the top-seeded Charleston Cougars (27-7, 15-3 CAA) at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night. A hard-fought battle ended with Stony Brook coming up short, as Charleston sent it home for the second year in a row in an 82-79 overtime loss.

Head coach Geno Ford did not downplay the feeling of losing in the way his team did. 

“It’s the ultimate stomach punch to lose how we lost, I mean, it couldn’t feel any worse,” Ford said in a postgame press conference. “Sports are cruel. I feel bad for the guys. I’ve never felt worse for a group of kids.”

Both teams scratched and clawed at each other through the first 10 and a half minutes, with a layup by center Ante Brzovic giving the Cougars a 24-18 lead. Sensing danger, small forward Tyler Stephenson-Moore came to his team’s rescue with a mid-range jump shot and a fast-break three-pointer to spark a 10-0 run to put the Seawolves up 28-24.After that, the lead changed six times, with Stony Brook clinging onto a slim 36-35 lead.

Center Keenan Fitzmorris extended the advantage to three points by knocking down a pair of free throws. With just 42 seconds left before halftime, power forward Andre Snoddy put his team up by two possessions with a tough jumper from the low post through contact.

Charleston small forward Ben Burnham had a last-second chance to make it a one-possession game at the half, but his uncontested layup in transition flushed out.

The fatigue of playing four games in as many days showed for the Seawolves, who missed six of their first seven shots in the second half. The Cougars capitalized on the drought, as they went on a 14-2 run by going inside and out. Brzovic, Burnham and power forward Frankie Policelli all scored in the paint to draw Stony Brook in. With the perimeter now open, Policelli and Charleston point guard C.J. Fulton each buried deep threes to go up 49-42 with 14:30 to play.

Fitzmorris injected some life into the Seawolves by hitting a pair of left-handed hooks over Brzovic on back-to-back possessions before another triple by Stephenson-Moore. Fitzmorris kept the ball rolling on the following trip down the court, throwing down a mean left-handed slam through a foul.

Fitzmorris’ heroics set up shooting guard Dean Noll, who got a lucky bounce on a catch-and-shoot three to make it a one-point game with 11:49 left in regulation. A three-pointer by Fulton was answered by another bucket in the paint from Fitzmorris to keep it a one-possession contest. However, a layup by Policelli, an and-one bucket from Burnham and a three-pointer by shooting guard Reyne Smith put the Cougars ahead 66-56 with 8:57 remaining.

Stony Brook cut its deficit back down to five points, but it then fell into a three-minute scoring drought, allowing a pair of layups by Burnham to push Charleston’s lead back to nine. Point guard Aaron Clarke finally broke the dry spell and got in the scoring column with a deep three-pointer at the 5:14 mark. Smith answered him with an immediate three of his own, but tough layups by Noll and Snoddy sparked a game-tying 9-0 run that Clarke ended with a step-back triple and a hard finish inside.

The title game remained even at 73 apiece over the final 2:12 of the second half, sending it to overtime. However, the Seawolves had a chance to win it towards the end of regulation. With just over 12 seconds left, Ford called a timeout, but Clarke was stripped to force the extra period.

Stony Brook’s fatigue started to rear its ugly head in overtime, as it turned the ball over three times and missed all of its three shots through the first four minutes. The Cougars took advantage of the blunders by going on a 6-0 run, five of which came from Smith.

Stephenson-Moore eased some pressure by connecting on a deep, contested three-pointer in transition to cut it to 79-76 with 1:01 remaining. Charleston came down the floor and chewed some clock before making its move and finding a wide-open Smith, but his three-pointer bounced off the rim. Shooting guard Jared Frey hauled in the rebound, giving the Seawolves a chance to tie with 24.4 seconds left.

After Frey dribbled the ball past halfcourt, Ford used his last timeout to talk things over. He decided to give the ball to Stephenson-Moore, putting it in the hands of his longest-tenured player to save the season.

Coming out the timeout, Stephenson-Moore put up a contested three early in the shot clock, missing way left and hitting nothing but the backboard. After the ball was deflected out of bounds, Stephenson-Moore committed a foul off the ball before the inbounds pass to send Smith to the free-throw line.

Smith made the first foul shot but missed the second. With 3.5 seconds left, Noll grabbed the rebound and put up a full-court heave to tie the game, but the ball clanked off the backboard as the Seawolves’ unlikely run came to an end.

Ford acknowledged his team’s fatigue in the overtime period, but was proud of the squad for the fight they put up. 

“I think we clearly ran out of gas in overtime,” Ford said. “But, for what the week was, I thought we really battled.”

Stephenson-Moore gave it his all in what is likely to be his last collegiate game, playing all 45 minutes of the contest. He scored 26 points while shooting 8-for-14 from the field, 7-for-12 from deep and 3-for-4 from the charity stripe. He also hauled in five rebounds.

Ford — who has spent his whole Stony Brook career coaching Stephenson-Moore — had nothing but positive things to say about him.

“I’ve coached other great players, I don’t know that I’ve coached a better leader,” Ford said while holding back tears.

Fitzmorris played well, scoring 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting while recording seven rebounds and three blocks.

Clarke struggled to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, but all of his scoring came during the last seven minutes of the game. He led the team with seven assists. As for Noll, he scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting and led the team with three steals.

Snoddy played hard and finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. He led the squad with seven rebounds and collected a steal.

All five of the Cougars’ starters cracked double-digit scoring figures. Smith — who was awarded the 2024 CAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player — led them with 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting. He made six of his 15 three-pointers and also tallied five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Stephenson-Moore and Fitzmorris were both selected to the 2024 CAA All-Tournament Team alongside Policelli, Charleston point guard Kobe Rodgers and Hofstra shooting guard Tyler Thomas.

After watching the Cougars eke out the CAA’s automatic bid to the 2024 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Ford gave them their flowers.

“Congrats to Charleston, great team,” Ford said. “They deserved to win. The irony is, I thought we deserved to win too, but that’s just how it works.”

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About the Contributor
Kenny Spurrell
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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