Paul Snyder’s April Hoops Journal

Noel Brown, Daryl Banks III & Mark Schmidt

There’s nothing like March Madness in college basketball. Most teams have to win their conference tournament to get into the field of 68 that compete for the national championship. This season I focused on two Long Island teams that compete in the Coastal Athletic Conference. Formerly, the Colonial Athletic Conference the CAA rebranded itself the Coastal AA on July 20, 2023. Stony Brook became an all sports participant in the CAA in 2022. Hempstead’s Hofstra University already a CAA participant is the other Long Island University.

On Sunday March 10th I was at Washington D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena for the CAA Men’s Basketball quarterfinals. College of Charleston never trailed Monmouth in an easy 83-59 win in the first quarterfinal. In the second quarterfinal Towson University beat University of North Carolina at Wilmington 66-56 after trailing 30-29 at halftime Towson outscored UNCW 37-26 in the second half. The third quarterfinal was an incredible double overtime thriller between Stony Brook and Philadelphia’s Drexel University. Stony Brook trailed Drexel throughout the game. The Seawolves held the lead for only 3 minutes and 18 seconds while Drexel led the game for 40 minutes and 18 seconds. Stony Brook guard Aaron Clarke was fouled after scoring and made the free throw with 18.5 seconds in the second overtime to lead Stony Brook to the 91-88 win. Clarke scored a career-high 27 points. Seawolves 6 foot 10 inch forward Chris Maidoh had a career-high 25 points adding 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal. It was a magnificent team effort. In the last quarterfinal Hofstra held Delaware to 29 points in the first and second halves while Hofstra scored 35 points in the first half and 38 in the second to win 73-58. The Pride’s win set up an all Long Island Semifinal for Monday March 11th.

Geno Ford & Tyler Stephenson-Moore

Charleston beat Towson in Monday’s first semifinal with a 13-1 run in the final 4 minutes. Towson’s Christian May hit an improbable 3 pointer off the backboard with 4:05 to go putting the Tigers up 55-48. Charleston’s 13-1 run gave them a 5 point win 61-56. After the Charleston win it was time for the all Long Island semifinal. I asked Stony Brook’s Coach Geno Ford how the team was feeling when I saw him during the Charleston/Towson semifinal. He said Aaron Clarke had been slightly injured in the quarterfinal when a Drexel player fell on him. I said maybe it would be Tyler Stephenson-Moore’s time to lead the team to victory.

Aaron Clarke & Chris Maidoh

Stephenson-Moore led the Seawolves this season as well as most of the last 5 years. I knew he was on a mission after Tyler said he had 4 more games to play after beating Delaware in the final regular season game on Senior Day March 2nd at Stony Brook. He had been asked to reflect on his amazing career, but the graduate student from Jamaica Queens and Long Island Lutheran H.S. who played all 5 seasons at Stony Brook said he would reflect on his career later. He had 4 more games to play. This is rare these days with the transfer portal. I knew he’d be locked in for game 3 of the 4 he said he had left. Stephenson-Moore and Hofstra’s Jaquan Carlos were the only players to play all 40 minutes. The CAA Player of the Year, Hofstra’s Tyler Thomas played magnificently in the loss. He scored 32 points with 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. After being down 61-51 with 37 seconds Thomas scored 8 straight points to get the Pride to 62-59 with 6 seconds to play but Stony Brook sealed the win with a Keenan Fitzmorris free throw to win 63-59. In the post game press conference I asked Stephenson-Moore about having the same intensity in the final against Charleston after the double overtime win against Drexel and the war they had just had with Hofstra. He answered, “this is my last ride” “there’s a lot of guys on the team it’s their last ride” “they(Charleston) are going to push the tempo, we’ve got to stop them in transition and play with confidence.” I was so impressed with his leadership. The Tuesday March 12th CAA Final with Charleston was another overtime war.

Stephenson-Moore scored 26 points going 7-12 from the 3 point arc. With under 5 minutes to go in regulation Charleston led 73-64. Stony Brook reeled off 9 straight points to get even at 73-73 with 2:12 to go. Both teams had a pair of possessions and couldn’t convert so they entered overtime at 73 all. With 2:20 to go in OT Charleston led 78-73. With 11.9 seconds left Tyler missed a three and Charleston got the rebound with the score 79-76. Aaron Clarke would hit a 3 with 4 seconds left to get it to 81-79. Charleston added a free throw and with time running out Dean Noll heaved a 3 point attempt from three-quarter court which missed and the Seawolves magical run came to an end. It was only the second time a 7th seed had made the CAA Final with the only other time being in 1993!

After the CAA Final it was time to head north. I drove to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after a short stay in Aberdeen, MD. I got to the Barclays in time for the 2pm second round game between Fordham University of the Bronx and Virginia Commonwealth University from Richmond, VA. The game came down to a missed layup by Kyle Rose. In his record 141st game as a Ram, Rose ended his college career against VCU scoring 19 points shooting 4-6 from 3 point land. Kyle’s missed layup with VCU up 65-62 sealed Fordham’s fate. It was a great game with neither team leading by more than 7 points throughout. Fordham had it tied twice at 59 and 61 but couldn’t get over the hump. With 13.1 seconds left VCU’s Joe Bamisile rebounded Rose’s missed layup and VCU went on to win 69-62. After Fordham’s loss I was hoping for a better outcome from another NY team, St. Bonaventure University from upstate NY. They played Philadelphia’s La Salle University in the 5pm second round game on Wednesday March 13th at the Barclays Center. The Bonnies led at halftime 42-34. The Explorers outscored the Bonnies by 6 in the second half eventually losing 75-73 in a game decided by five more points scored at the free throw line by St. Bonaventure.

On Thursday March 14th it was time to check out St. John’s University from the Queens section of our island at Madison Square Garden in the Big East quarterfinals. St. John’s dominated New Jersey’s Seton Hall 91-72.

After the St. John’s 19 point win I headed to the Barclays Center on the subway for St. Bonaventure’s quarterfinal game with Loyola Chicago. It was another double overtime thriller like Stony Brook had played in the CAA quarterfinals. Loyola Chicago led the Bonnies at halftime 31-22. The Bonnies outscored them 36-27 in the second half. The Bonnies made 17 free throws in the second half while Loyola only had 6. In overtime the Bonnies were 9 for 9 from the foul line while Loyola was 6 for 10 from the line. After the game I asked Daryl Banks III who led the Bonnies with 22 points and 8 rebounds, “how sweet it was going 12 for 12 from the foul line, drawing and making a 3 shot foul and making two big 3’s in crunch time?” With a big smile on his face he answered, “it was pretty sweet, we were down two and it was good to take the lead from the line.” Once again free throws can be everything in a tight double overtime 75-74 quarterfinal win. The Bonnies would eventually lose to Atlantic 10 Tournament Champion Duquesne 70-60 in the semifinals but it was a great run for the upstate school.

On Friday March 15th I got to MSG early. The media had been advised there would be a 4pm press conference which turned out to be an announcement that the Big East and MSG had extended their partnership through 2032. The “extension ensures the world’s most famous arena will host 50 consecutive Big East Tournaments” After the announcement it was time for the 5:30pm semifinal between St. John’s and defending national champion UCONN. UCONN led 52-47 at halftime. St. John’s and UCONN both scored 43 points in the second half and St. John’s lost 95-90. In the post game press conference I asked St. John’s Coach Rick Pitino if the game was decided by the 6 more free throws UCONN made? UCONN was 22-24 from the line while St. John’s was 16 of 18. Coach Pitino answered, “pretty much. You get behind on them and they can burn you.” After all the tournament games I watched the close ones came down to making free throws and big defensive stops in crunch time.