At shootaround on Sunday morning, Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals asked his players if any of them had watched Nevada storm back from a 14-point deficit with just over a minute to go at New Mexico the previous night.
To Boals, that comeback was a teaching tool, a way of reminding his team to never quit no matter how far it fell behind.
Stony Brook put that lesson to good use only a few hours later when facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit of its own with just under six minutes to play. In a comeback nearly as unfathomable as Nevada’s, the Sea Wolves scored the game’s final 21 points against Albany to erase a 19-point deficit and emerge with a stunning 72-70 victory.
“During the under-8-minute timeout, I told them, ‘Hey boys, this is our Nevada time right now,'” Boals said. “It’s kind of surreal how it worked out.”
It was guard Lucas Woodhouse and forward Tyrell Sturdivant who combined to make sure Stony Brook would not require overtime the way Nevada did. Sturdivant capped the rally when he took a nice feed from Woodhouse and scored a tie-breaking layup with six tenths of a second to go.
SEAWOLVES WIN!!!! pic.twitter.com/ZeTTs1yqVL
— Stony Brook MBB (@StonyBrookMBB) January 8, 2017
Boals felt comfortable with the ball in Woodhouse’s hands on his team’s final possession because the senior guard has been his team’s best player all season. Woodhouse, Stony Brook’s leader in points and assists, scored 10 straight points earlier in the game-ending surge and finished with 21 for the game.
“He’s always been a pass-first role guy, and this year I needed him to have a scorer’s mentality,” Boals said. “When he plays aggressive, we’re really good. I definitely knew the last play we were putting the ball in his hands and letting him make a play.”
Woodhouse never would have had the opportunity to win the game at the last second for Stony Brook had Boals not switched to a 1-2-2 three-quarters-court press with about eight minutes to play. Albany turned the ball over seven times in its final 10 possessions and did not attempt a field goal in the game’s final 4:23.
“We had to do something to try to change the tempo,” Boals said. “We changed it up where we would trap certain passes and certain areas. When you’re up that much, you’re trying to kill some clock and you’re not being aggressive. I think that played to our advantage a little bit.”
Boals also credited his team’s resilience to its experience in a slew of tight games so far this season. Nine of the Seawolves’ 15 games have been decided in the final minute and they’ve emerged victorious in five of those contests.
That Stony Brook is off to a 2-0 start to league play is impressive considering all the talent the Seawolves lost. They were picked seventh in the league in the preseason poll after their two leading scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team graduated and three other key returners were dismissed from the team during the offseason due to off-court trouble.
What Boals was left with in his debut season was a group of former role players who needed to adjust to larger roles. The development of Woodhouse and Sturdivant has Stony Brook believing it can exceed preseason expectations and maybe even contend for another league title.
“Ty played 11 minutes a game last year,” Boals said. “Now he’s a go-to guy on the block. Lucas was a set-up assist guy and a spot up shooter. Well he’s got to make plays and score for us now. Those guys have done a great job adjusting to those roles and now they’re coming into their own.”
Great as those two players were down the stretch, Boals knows he owes a thank you to one other person Sunday night — Nevada coach Eric Musselman.
“Big-time assist,” Boals said with a chuckle. “That game last night reminded us you’re never out of a game.”
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