Late Stony Brook Run Eliminates Hofstra, Yields David & Goliath CAA Final

Jon Wagner

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the waning moments of each Coastal Athletic Association semifinal game at the Entertainment & Sports Arena on Monday night, it appeared that a different team would win.

That was until a late run changed the end of the first semifinal and a similar late spurt did the same in the other one.

Thus, instead of the fifth-seeded Towson Tigers (20-14, 11-7 CAA) meeting the third-seeded Hofstra Pride (20-13, 12-6 CAA) for a CAA tournament championship on Tuesday night, it’ll be the defending champion, top-seeded Charleston Cougars (26-7, 15-3 CAA) trying to end the seventh-seeded Stony Brook Seawolves’ (20-14, 10-8 CAA) gutty Cinderella run.

It’s one thing if Charleston completes an unlikely rally to win. That’s what champions do. But Stony Brook? That has certainly surprised many around the conference.

Following the Cougars’ blueprint using a 13-1 run over the final four minutes to rally for a five-point win in the opener of the night, the Seawolves used their own, late 13-0 run to turn a 51-48 deficit with 5:01 left against Hofstra into 61-51 lead in the final minute before allowing the Pride to get back within one possession, and then finishing off a gutsy 63-59 upset one day after Stony Brook surprised second-seeded Drexel in double overtime, and two days after ousting 10th-seeded Northeastern in a second-round win.

It wasn’t a thing of beauty — the Seawolves’ 38 percent shooting (19-for-50) was barely better than the Pride’s woeful 35.1 percent (20-for-57) — but Stony Brook grinded its way through (with the help of a 42-30 rebounding advantage), especially down the stretch of the first postseason meeting between the two Long Island rivals.

The Seawolves initially led 8-3, then trailed, 11-8, and 22-18, before going on a 12-1 spurt to lead, 30-23. Hofstra closed the half strong to get within 32-30 by halftime.

Neither team was able to get much separation for most of the second half as the Pride turned a 41-38 deficit with 12:31 remaining into a late three-point edge.

A game-tying 3-pointer from senior point guard and All-CAA Second Team selection Tyler Stephenson-Moore (who led the Seawolves with 23 points and nine rebounds) was the first sign of trouble for Hofstra, which missed six straight shots, made two, and then missed another seven in a row as the game slipped away from the Pride.

Senior forward Chris Maidoh (13 points) had his way in the paint with a power spin move and an easy layup to put Stony Brook ahead for good, 53-51, with 2:34 to go.

After CAA Player of the Year Tyler Thomas (game-high 32 points, team-best nine rebounds, six assists) had one of Hofstra’s nine missed layups (including six in the second half), Stephenson-Moore hit a jumper to push the lead to four with 1:59 left and senior guard Dean Noll (eight points) drilled a right-wing 3-pointer to place the Pride in serious trouble with just under a minute to play.

Following a turnover by junior point guard Jaquan Carlos (13 points, six assists), senior guard Aaron Clarke (12 points, eight rebounds) hit two free throws and added another a few seconds later to make it 61-51.

A personal 8-1 run in a span of about 16 seconds gave Hofstra some brief hope at 62-59 with 6.7 seconds left, but one last Stony Brook free throw finished the Seawolves’ second big tournament upset in as many days.

Hats off to Stony Brook,” head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton said. “They earned this one. They made big shots after big shots when the needed to, so congrats to them and good luck to them in the finals.”

Unlike when junior guard and All-CAA Second Team selection Darlinstone Dubar scored a game-high 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting in Hofstra’s six-point win at Stony Brook on Jan. 22, Claxton was unable to get the Pride’s second-leading scorer involved much in the offense, as Dubar was held to only five points on 2-for-6 shooting.

A big fan of Dubar’s play, head coach Geno Ford said, “I thought he was a First Team All-Conference player all year. I was actually surprised that the coaches didn’t get him on the First Team because he also guards. He’s one of the best defenders in our league. He’s a two-way player. I think Dubar and Tyler Stephenson-Moore are the two best two-way guys our league has to offer.”

Ford added on stopping Dubar, “We tried to double team him any time he caught it within a step or so of the blocks, so that forced him to pass it, and on the perimeter, we tried to just really pressure him and make him drive it. He’s such a good shooter. He’s got length, he’s got size. I thought we did a really good job and any time you do that… when you have an elite offensive player and they don’t have good stats, yes, it’s defense, yes, it’s game plan, but sometimes a guy just has a bad night. I think it’s a combination of all that to be quite honest… I certainly know what he’s capable of and we tried similar stuff that night (on Jan. 22), and none of it worked. Give our guys credit for maybe playing a little harder to make those shots a little more difficult [this time].”

Disregarding the fact that Dubar didn’t shoot much at all rather than simply missing, Claxton said, “I don’t think it was anything [that Stony Brook] specifically did. He just had an off night. It just sucked that tonight had to be that night for him.”

On harassing Thomas into 10-for-27 shooting despite Thomas’ high point total, Ford said, “Tyler Thomas can make unbelievably hard shots. He’s the best hard shot maker, maybe in the country… he makes some really hard ones… I thought we made him work for [his points] and it doesn’t matter. Great offense beats good defense but his percentage tonight was where we needed it.”

In contrast, Stephenson-Moore was efficient everywhere, whether it was going 3-for-7 from inside the arc, 4-for-7 beyond it, or 5-for-6 at the free throw line.

I felt like I got to my spots,” he said. “I didn’t let them fight over me in the post and I just made great shots. I just stayed confident and trusted in it.”

With its inspiring run, Stony Brook, which is making its first CAA finals appearance, is the third team seeded No. 7 or lower to reach the CAA finals. East Carolina was also a seven seed when it stunned top-seeded James Madison for the 1993 tournament title and eighth-seeded Elon lost to sixth-seeded Drexel in a chaotic 2021 tournament following a Covid-shortened regular season.

However, the Seawolves feel like they belong after several near-misses and a home win (over UNCW) against top CAA teams during the regular season.

Stony Brook is now ready to come after the top seed after taking down the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds.

We are the seven seed, but the league’s expanded and we’re not the seventh-best team in the league,” Ford said. “I think we’ve shown that. Our guys don’t believe that and they’ve got a lot of grit to them.”

Hoping for an edge against Charleston, Ford joked, “The good news is they played a football game today because Towson’s so physical. I’m sure they’ve got more ice packs going than we will and we played one extra game. Hopefully they’re beat up and sore.”

The Cougars, who won the outright regular season CAA title by two games this year, will be looking to become the first team to repeat as CAA tournament champions since UNCW in 2016 and 2017.

They’re a great team,” Ford acknowledged. “They have a ton of depth. They’re just going to keep coming at you in waves. In the game [against Charleston] at our place, we had a 15-point lead. I think their depth just wore us down as the game went.”

Ford doesn’t expect fatigue to be factor, even playing for a fourth straight day in the title game, with Stony Brook having to go extra time to beat Drexel compared with Charleston playing only two days in regulation only thus far in the tournament.

We’ll have adrenaline going,” he said. “Guys are going to want to play, it’s not going to matter who’s hurt or who’s tired but it’ll be difficult because of how great they are… they’re the best team for a reason. They’ve been the best team for two years.”

Like the Cougars, the Seawolves — who are capable of playing in the 80 and 90s but also in the 50s and 60s — can be chameleon-esque with adapting to having to win in different ways when needed.

[Charleston] is a hard team to beat when it’s in the 90s but our guards are aggressive,” Ford said. “So that kind of forces our pace to be higher. I’m old, so I love games like this [beating Hofstra in the semifinals]. This was a rock fight, this was a toughness game, this was a game that was won on the backboard. It wasn’t really an execution game.”

Stephenson-Moore added, “They’re going to push the tempo and we’ve just got to stop them in transition, and just play confident.”

Citing his team’s 11-4 record since Stony Brook’s home loss to Hofstra, Ford said, “Tomorrow, we’ll have our hands full. We know that. We’ve got great respect for Charleston but we’ve felt like for the last three-plus weeks, that we’re playing as well as anybody in the league. We really feel like we’re the hottest team in the league. They may have been the best team for two months. We’ve only got to be the best team for 40 minutes.”

Said Stephenson-Moore, “This what you live for when you’re a younger kid, moments like this. This is my last my last ride and a lot of guys on the team, [their] last rides, so we’ve got to come to play.”

And if the Seawolves do, they may just pull off one more surprise and cut the nets.

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons).Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship).He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

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