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How Stony Brook’s women’s basketball team crumbled

The Stony Brook woman’s basketball team after the game against UMass Lowell on Feb. 9. The Seawolves failed to bring home a regular season title in the 2021/2022 season. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN.

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team seemed to have it all figured out entering the final six regular season games of the 2021-22 season.

On Feb. 12, the Seawolves sat comfortably atop the America East standings with a 21-2 (14-2 AE) record. They had recently secured their 11th win in a row in a nail-biting finish against UMass Lowell, marking their largest winning streak since 22 games in 2019-20. Defying all odds, the Seawolves also took down Washington State in an unprecedented matchup on Dec 19.

Stony Brook also appeared to have survived the worst hardships of the season, both on and off the court. Up to that point, the Seawolves’ only losses came because of a shorthanded roster. In a 71-59 road loss to Fordham, Stony Brook played without forward India Pagan and guard Annie Warren. Six players, including starting guard Earlette Scott, were out with COVID-19 in the Seawolves’ shocking 54-49 conference opener defeat by NJIT.

Then came the America East’s decision to ban Stony Brook athletics from playoff contention following the university’s announcement to join the CAA. The news, which broke on Feb. 2, meant that the team’s only hope of securing a playoff spot would be an at-large bid.

In a season where Stony Brook defeated Washington State, Rutgers and St. John’s — two Power Five teams and a Big East member — it is hard to imagine a scenario where things would fall to pieces in the end. Yet the Seawolves couldn’t hang on for a regular season title that they so desperately needed.

Fourth-quarter struggles caused the Seawolves to drop three of their last six games of the season, falling to Maine, UMass Lowell and Albany. These teams were no stranger to the Seawolves. In fact, Stony Brook went 3-0 against them prior to facing them again down the stretch.

Stony Brook beat Maine with authority back in January. Pagan and Warren combined for 28 points, while forward Leighah-Amori Wool also reached double-digit points of her own (12). The Seawolves followed the same routine they had followed throughout their dominant run: attack early, win the glass and prioritize the paint.

Stony Brook’s formula showed its first actual signs of failure when facing Maine on Feb. 12. Maine flat-out dominated Stony Brook in the first quarter of their final matchup. The Bearcats jumped out to an early 24-8 lead, making a second-half comeback nearly impossible for the Seawolves to achieve.

Despite losing by a final score of 61-55 against Maine, the Seawolves had every reason to believe that the loss was just another blip on the radar. Langford chalked the loss up to poor defensive strategies in the first quarter that could easily be corrected by the start of the next game.

Stony Brook won its next three games with ease. Two of those wins came against the UMBC Retrievers, who entered play against the Seawolves with a 6-8 conference record. Stony Brook held the Retrievers to just 48 points in game one, marking the 10th game in which it held an opponent under 50 points. Game two marked Stony Brook’s 22nd win of the season, the sixth-most wins in program history and the 700th win for the program overall.

The Seawolves carried their momentum to Connecticut, where they recorded their highest point output of the season (95) against Hartford.

At this point, an at-large bid seemed like a possibility. The Seawolves still sat on top of the America East standings, despite Maine’s efforts to topple them. Their NET ranking at one point was over 80 positions higher than anyone else in the conference. 

Four days before the end of the conference regular season, Stony Brook’s record was 23-3 (14-2 AE). All the Seawolves needed to do to clinch the regular season title was win one of its final two games against UMass Lowell and Albany, two teams that Stony Brook was more than capable of handling with ease.

UMass Lowell and Albany did what many teams couldn’t do against the Seawolves throughout the season — stage a comeback in the fourth quarter.

UMass Lowell trailed Stony Brook by nine points entering the fourth quarter, only to go on an 11-2 run to gain its first lead of the game with 2:00 left. Even with a valiant effort by the Seawolves to battle back and forth in the last minutes, there was simply no stopping UMass Lowell’s red-hot offense. All it took was a last second layup to send Stony Brook home empty-handed on Senior Night.

After losing on their home court because of a poor fourth-quarter performance, one would expect that the Seawolves tightened up that aspect of their performance in time for the finale against the Great Danes, and when Stony Brook led by 16 with nine minutes left, the regular season title looked all but certain.

However, Albany also found fourth-quarter success against Stony Brook in the final regular season game — but this time in a much more dramatic fashion. 

The Seawolves were held scoreless through the final five minutes of play on Feb. 26. Albany took full advantage of Stony Brook’s cold streak, putting up a 13-0 run to mount the comeback and secure the victory.

The Seawolves’ loss against Albany ultimately decided the regular season title. A Stony Brook win would have kept it one game above Maine in the standings. However, Maine went on an unstoppable 13-game winning streak to close conference play.

Stony Brook beat Washington State, Rutgers and St. John’s in the non-conference schedule. Maine lost by over 20 points at home to Drexel and Delaware. The Seawolves’ NET was over 70 spots higher at the end of the regular season, but the regular season title — the only America East title they could win — did not belong to them.

Stony Brook’s last-minute losses were no match for the Black Bears’ dominance over the stretch. Shut out from the opportunity to win a postseason championship, the regular season championship looked all but sealed for the Seawolves given how they were without a doubt the most accomplished team in the conference all season long — until it fell out of their hands.

Currently, the Seawolves are still hoping for a playoff berth.

“I hope that there is basketball ahead of us,” Langford said in a press conference after the Albany defeat. “We have had a great season. I hope that the WNIT sees that and we get an at-large.”

With Maine losing in the America East title game, Stony Brook will need an at-large bid to take part in the WNIT.

Stony Brook had a dominant season overall in 2021-22, leading the league in average points per game (68.1) and margin of victory (11.6). But the Seawolves can only hope that the WNIT overlooks those last six games and their inability to bring home a regular season title in its at-large bid decisions. 

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