Despite being one of the youngest teams in the country, the Stony Brook Seawolves are off to their best start in Division I history.
Stony Brook has just two upperclassmen on its roster and ranks 306th in Division in experience according to KenPom, but Jeff Boals’s team is now 8-1 on the young season after defeating Manhattan, 69-62, in the Bronx on Wednesday night.
“Coming in this summer I thought our culture and our upperclassmen did a great job of setting the tone,” Boals said. “You just see the confidence every single game. You’ve got different guys in different games stepping up.”
On Wednesday it was one of those two upperclassmen, junior forward Akwasi Yeboah, who led the way. Yeboah made 16 free throws against the Jaspers on the way to a season-high 25 points. His corner three with 1:22 remaining helped push the game out of reach for Manhattan (2-6). He is a chiseled 6-foot-6 and the team’s leading scorer at 18.5 points per game. Yeboah is one of the best in the country at getting to the free throw line, averaging 6.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes on the court.
The junior from London, England is also enjoying playing with his new teammates.
“It’s just new energy,” Yeboah said. “It’s fun to be around that new energy that is all excited to play. It boosts me up in practice in the games to see how focused and the integrity that everyone has.”
Stony Brook’s only senior is heady point guard Jaron Cornish. It’s his job to steer the young Seawolves offense through turbulent times. He scored 10 points and committed five turnovers in 39 minutes against Manhattan’s constant press. Cornish averages 9.0 points per game and has twice as many assists (32) this season as the next player on the Seawolves.
Yeboah and Cornish, along with sophomore swingman Elijah Olaniyi — who was the America East Rookie of the Year last season — are the three leaders for Stony Brook on and off the court.
“Jaron, Elijah, and Akwasi have done a really great job this summer setting the tone,” Boals said. “Nowadays kids don’t want to get on each other. They take it personal. And I try to tell them is all we’re trying to do is win the game. If you need to get one somebody for not sprinting back in transition or blocking out you need to do that and those guys have been doing a great job.”
The offseason work has carried through into the first month of the season. Stony Brook is perfect on the road at 5-0, including wins at South Carolina, George Washington, and Rhode Island. (The one loss was on a neutral court to Holy Cross.)
“I think it’s a mindset,” Boals said about winning on the road. “We talk about in order to win in the [America East] you have to be able to win on the road. In the nine games we’ve played I don’t think we’ve played the same style of play. … I tell our guys every game going in, don’t ever get tired of preparing to win.”
The Seawolves have won with a physical brand of basketball that highlights the lengthy athletes that Boals has brought in during the past two offseasons since taking over from Steve Pikiell (the former SBU head coach, who led the Seawolves to their first ever Division I NCAA Tournament in 2016, is now in charge at Rutgers). Stony Brook is among the nation’s leaders in getting to the free throw line and grabbing offensive rebounds, which can help power an offense even when shots aren’t falling.
Against Manhattan that length was on display defensively as well. The Seawolves bogged down passing lanes and took away easy shooting angles. Junior Pauly Paulicap led the Jaspers with 24 points and 10 rebounds in his third game back from injury, but Steve Masiello’s squad found little else offensively.
The length can also help Stony Brook find open shots on offense. Freshman Miles Latimer has provided spacing by shooting 43 percent from downtown early in the season. He scored 13 points against the Jaspers on three-for-five shooting from deep. Fellow freshman Jules Moor chipped in 10 points off the bench, including a fast break layup.
Moor came to Stony Brook because of the culture Boals and his players have built on Long Island.
“When I came on my visit I met people like [Yeboah] and the team and I really felt like I was part of the family,” Moor said. “From day one coach Boals has helped me get better and prepared me for life on and off the court.”
That preparation helped Olaniyi have an excellent freshman season and now fellow sophomore Andrew Garcia is also blossoming offensively. He’s averaging 10 points per game, up from just 2.9 points per game a season ago. The youth leading the way on this season’s squad has forced Boals to refocus his team on shorter term goals.
“The last couple of years we talked about March 10, March 11, which was the championship games,” Boals said. “This year we’re talking about winning the moment. Not looking forward.”
But with this start it’s hard not to look into the future and see that Stony Brook appears to be one of the title contenders in the America East this season along with Vermont. This young team has a chance to turn what was supposed to be a rebuilding season into a championship.