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Late-game surge earns Stony Brook women’s basketball first-ever CAA playoff victory

Guard Gigi Gonzalez dribbles between her legs against Charleston on Thursday, Jan. 26. Gonzalez led the Stony Brook women’s basketball team to a comeback victory in the opening round of the CAA postseason tournament on Thursday. CAMRON WANG/THE STATESMAN

With its season on the line, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, erasing a 16-point deficit to advance to the next round of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) playoffs.

After ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak, the sixth-seeded Seawolves (18-12, 11-7 CAA) defeated the 11th-seeded Elon Phoenix in Towson, Md. on Thursday. Early offensive struggles saw Stony Brook post an anemic .270/.083/.500 triple slash in the first half, but a 29-10 finishing run led to a 54-51 victory. The Seawolves now advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face the third-seeded Northeastern Huskies on Friday.

Like she has all season long, head coach Ashley Langford attributed the win to the team’s ability to fight through adversity.

“I’m really proud of the team,” Langford said in a postgame press conference. “Winning games in tournament time and March is tough. We were down 16; we just told them ‘You’ve got to keep believing and our shots will fall. We’ve got to keep fighting.’ And they responded.” 

Stony Brook got off to an abysmal start offensively, scoring just 23 points in the first half. Despite 11 first-half turnovers, Elon took a 27-23 lead into halftime. The Seawolves shot 3-for-17 in the second quarter, preventing them from taking advantage of their opponent’s miscues. 

Elon guard Lenaejha Evans got things going in the second half, as her mid-range jumper with 5:11 remaining gave the Phoenix their first double-digit lead of the night. This forced Langford to take a timeout. Elon forward Ajia James responded with six straight points, extending the deficit to 41-25 and capping off a 14-2 run to open the third quarter.

With their backs against the wall, the Seawolves turned to guard Annie Warren to help the team right the ship. Warren picked up the slack for Stony Brook with a mid-range jumper, and followed with a three-pointer after she helped force a 10-second violation on the prior Elon possession. She ended the quarter with a steal and drew a foul before knocking down both of her free throws. 

After trailing by 16 with 3:51 remaining in the third, Warren spearheaded a 13- run to cut it to 41-38 by the start of the final frame.

The frantic, high-paced play seen in the closing moments of the third quarter then came to a screeching halt in the fourth. After missing their first four looks, the Seawolves finally cracked the scoreboard in the fourth quarter on a mid-range jumper by Warren with 5:58 remaining. Stony Brook evened things up two minutes later with a three-point play by guard Daishai Almond. 

With 2:25 remaining, guard Gigi Gonzalez sliced through the defense for a tough layup over Elon center Evonna McGill, giving Stony Brook a one-point lead. The Seawolves continued to lock up on defense, and forward Shamarla King extended their lead to three points with a layup just inside of one minute remaining.

Just 17 seconds after King’s bucket, Gonzalez drew a foul and knocked down a free throw to give her team a two-possession lead.

A pivotal block in the paint by Almond with 27 seconds remaining helped keep the Seawolves two-possession lead intact. The Phoenix kept things interesting until the final buzzer, as several misses from the free-throw line by Stony Brook allowed Elon to stay within striking distance. 

A contested three-point make by Elon guard Kamryn Doty brought the team back within two points with 14 seconds left. However, the last ditch effort from the Phoenix was too little, too late. 

Four straight makes from the charity stripe by Warren and Gonzalez kept Stony Brook in front. Elon was forced to heave up a three-pointer at the buzzer that fell way short of the rim. 

Gonzalez led the way for Stony Brook, playing a pivotal role in the team’s comeback with clutch buckets and strong defense down the stretch. She recorded a game-high 17 points, along with four steals, five rebounds and two assists. Just behind Gonzalez in the scoring department was Warren who tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and two steals. 

The backcourt duo were the lone Seawolves to hit a three-pointer, as both went 1-for-6 from deep. As a whole, the team shot just 2-of-21 from deep. 

King was the only other Stony Brook player to crack double-digits with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Despite a rough day offensively — scoring just six points on 2-of-14 shooting — Almond still found a way to contribute. She played a vital role in the comeback defensively, tallying four steals and a block. 

Forward Nyajuok Toang helped fill the void in the absence of center Sherese Pittman, assisting Stony Brook in locking down the paint in the game’s closing moments.

The biggest difference for Stony Brook was the turnover battle. The Seawolves committed only eight turnovers, while Elon committed 23. The +15 margin helped Stony Brook overcome its .288/.095/.609 triple slash.

The Phoenix offense was led by James, who scored 12 points. She shot 4-of-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range.

The Seawolves now advance to play the Northeastern Huskies in the quarterfinals of the CAA championship tournament on Friday. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The Huskies are 18-11 on the season and 13-5 in CAA play. Stony Brook lost its only meeting with Northeastern this year 68-63.

Northeastern ranks second in the CAA in scoring defense, allowing 61.9 points per game, outmatching Stony Brook’s 65.6. The Seawolves hold the upper hand offensively. They average 68.3 points per game which is second-best in the conference, whereas Northeastern averages 65.5, which is good for eighth. 

Langford is excited for the opportunity to avenge Stony Brook’s loss in the regular season. 

“It’s another opportunity,” Langford said. “We only got to play them one time during the regular season. They’re a good team, but it’s even better when we didn’t win the first one and now we have another crack at it.”

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