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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Late-season collapse derails Stony Brook women’s basketball title chances

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team gathers around the bench during a timeout in a game against Iona on Monday, Nov. 14 for its 2022-23 home opener. The Seawolves had an up and down first year in the CAA. ONESUN JEONG/THE STATESMAN

After a late-season tailspin derailed last year’s campaign, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team tried to right its wrongs in the 2022-23 season, but met an eerily similar demise.

Coming into the season, the Seawolves had several questions surrounding the team and holes to fill. The biggest question they faced was who was going to fill the void left after guard Earlette Scott, center India Pagan and forwards McKenzie Bushee and Leighah-Amori Wool all graduated. Despite losing those program cornerstones, Stony Brook was still projected to finish in third place in the 2022-23 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) preseason poll.

The Seawolves lived up to their billing for a majority of the season, fueled by a high-octane offense and a solid mix of veteran and youthful talent via the transfer portal. A win against Hampton on Feb. 24 ascended the team to second place in the CAA standings. However, after center Sherese Pittman suffered a torn ligament in her knee against Delaware on Feb. 26, things took a turn for the worse.

The team struggled in the absence of Pittman, a key scoring threat and strong defender. Three-straight losses sunk Stony Brook to sixth place heading into the CAA playoffs, the third of which was a one-point loss to Monmouth in the regular season finale on Mar. 4. That loss put the Seawolves out of contention for a second-round bye in the conference tournament.

Head coach Ashley Langford felt the team did its best to make up for Pittman’s injury, but her absence was too much to overcome heading into the postseason.

“Sherese is a big piece of what we do,” Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “That’s 14 points and eight rebounds you’re accustomed to having … I think people tried to step up. Nyajuok Toang and Elizabeth Field stepped up, but at the end of the day, that’s an All-Conference player we don’t have going into March.”

The Seawolves were able to pull off a miraculous 16-point comeback win in round one over Elon, but fell to Northeastern in the quarterfinals to finish the year 18-13 overall and 11-7 in conference play.

“We didn’t get the championship that we wanted,” Langford said. “But all year, we had been preaching it’s not necessarily about the outcome, it’s about the journey and getting better each day. We all wish we would have won it, but I do think we competed in every game with every team in a new league and I’m proud of how we competed.”

Although Stony Brook was unable to meet its championship aspirations, guard Gigi Gonzalez still viewed the year as a success.

“Being our first year in the conference it was something to be proud of,” Gonzalez said. “Just getting to a higher conference and being around different competition.”

The Seawolves’ season was up and down from the get-go. The nonconference portion of their schedule yielded mixed results in a 6-5 start, from the highs of a 26-point comeback over Iona and the lows of three defeats by 20 points or more.

Stony Brook seemed to find its stride heading into CAA play with back-to-back wins to finish its nonconference schedule. The Seawolves extended the winning streak to a season-high five games by winning their first three conference games over William & Mary, Hofstra and University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Stony Brook’s potent offense catalyzed the win streak, averaging 75.0 points per game during the five-game stretch, including a season-high 89 points against William & Mary. Throughout the Seawolves’ next eight games, Stony Brook went 4-4 with three of its losses coming on the road.

The Seawolves struggled away from Island Federal Arena all season long, going 4-9 in road games. The losses squandered away several chances for the team to rise in the conference standings. Stony Brook’s 68-60 loss to North Carolina A&T on Jan. 20 prevented the team from taking first place in the CAA.

Langford felt the team needs to have a better mentality in high-pressure games for Stony Brook to get over the hump.

“We just have to get better mentally,” Langford said. “Being okay with being uncomfortable. It takes a little bit more when you’re on the road and beat teams on their home court. I think a piece of it is mental and we just have to improve in that area.”

The catalyst behind the Seawolves 18-win season was the team’s elite offense which ranked second in the CAA at 67.9 points per game. Stony Brook was able to achieve this through a balanced scoring attack that saw four players average double-figure point totals.

Langford credited the team’s increased tempo and having multiple scoring threats as the keys to its success.

“We had four players average double digits,” Langford said. “That helps to distribute the wealth, so it’s not just one person that teams can key in on. We played faster this year and I think that helped players get open down court.”

Leading the offense was the backcourt pairing of Gonzalez and guard Annie Warren. The duo combined to score 42.6% of the team’s total points. Warren’s 16.4 points per game led Stony Brook while also ranking fourth in the CAA. She led the conference in three-pointers made with 94 while ranking second in three-point shooting percentage at 40.2.% Warren also broke the program’s all-time three-point record on Feb. 9, against Northeastern. Her 509 total points were the 10th most by a Seawolf in a single season, and it also helped her eclipse the 1,000 career-point mark, finishing her Stony Brook career with 1,453. Warren will now graduate as the program’s eighth all-time leading scorer.

Warren also played good defense, racking up 38 steals, good for 1.2 per game. Her overall play earned her a 2023 All-CAA First Team selection. Warren was proud of her efforts this past season and felt her accolades validated the effort she has put in over the course of her career.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Warren said. “Knowing that the work I’ve put in is being shown. I worked to get where I am.”

Gonzalez averaged career-highs across the board in 2022-23. The 2023 All-CAA Third Team selection averaged 12.5 points per game on a .374/.288/.832 shooting line. She served as the offense’s primary ball handler, facilitating the offense at an elite rate. Gonzalez finished second in the CAA in assists per game with 4.3. She was also a playmaker on defense, recording a team-high 60 steals. Her 1.9 steals per game ranked seventh in the conference.

Gonzalez has already committed to playing her graduate season next year at Stony Brook. She felt her breakout season is just a preview of what is to come next year.

“You can expect a lot more assists, points, rebounds and a lot more of the stuff I did this year to a higher extent,” Gonzalez said. “A lot more leading and being vocal as much as I can and helping my team any way I can.”

Three vital acquisitions via the transfer portal paid dividends for the Seawolves all season. Guard Daishai Almond was brought in after playing four years as a point guard at the University of Southern Mississippi. Pittman was acquired through the transfer portal after one season at James Madison. Forward Shamarla King rounded out the group, transferring to Stony Brook after two years at Virginia Tech.

Almond started all 30 games she appeared in this season on the wing, averaging 9.2 points and 2.6 assists per game. Her tenacious play style on both ends of the floor came up clutch for the Seawolves all year long, including her block that thwarted Elon’s comeback attempt in the opening round of the playoffs.

After playing just 12 minutes during her career at Virginia Tech, King became a key contributor for Stony Brook after starting forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes went down with an injury on Dec. 7. She averaged 8.2 points per game while shooting 42.1% from the field. King helped make up for the lack of rebounding by averaging 6.2 boards per game, good for third-best on the team.

King is grateful for the opportunity that Stony Brook has given her, allowing her to showcase her abilities.

“I just wanted to play basketball again,” King said. “I just missed it so much, I didn’t really worry about minutes and all that. It was really great to showcase what I learned at Virginia Tech and transition that to Stony Brook.”

Pittman burst onto the scene in her first year as a Seawolf, receiving 2023 All-CAA Second Team honors. She averaged 13.7 points per game on a 48.8% field goal percentage. She was also reliable from the free-throw line, knocking down 71.7% of her attempts. She was also the CAA’s second-best rebounder, averaging 8.2 per game. Defensively she led the team in blocks with 24 and ranked fourth in steals with 33 (1.2 per game). Despite Pittman’s injury, Langford feels she will be ready in time for next season.

Stony Brook’s elite offense made up for its occasionally porous defense. The team’s defense was the polar opposite of its offense, ranking third worst in the CAA in points allowed per game at 65.8. After boasting the 32nd-best scoring defense in the country a season prior, Stony Brook fell 185 spots to 217th in the nation.

Langford feels the players need to get better individually on defense and not shy away from physicality.

“We just have to get better individually to get better defensively first,” Langford said. “Individuals have to be defensively minded and ultimately be more physical in general.”

One of the better defensive contributors was guard/forward Kelis Corley, who played in all 31 games and was the team’s sixth player. She blocked 15 shots, which was the second most on the team, and picked up 29 steals. She also improved on her shooting numbers from the 2021-22 season, posting a .336/.311/.619 shooting line, up from .288/.308/.444.

Stony Brook will be faced with more roster turnover heading into next season, as Warren, Almond and Vargas-Reyes are all out of eligibility. Langford will be recruiting in several areas to find the trio’s potential replacements.

“All [types of] recruiting overall,” Langford said. “So that could be the transfer portal. That could be JUCO. We have to go that route.”

Although Stony Brook failed to live up to its lofty expectations in the end, King feels the Seawolves are a team to look out for next year in the CAA.

“It was a whole new team,” King said. “It took us a while to really find that flow of how we were going to play together … For a very new team in a new conference, I think we did a really good job. I think a lot of teams next year are going to worry about having us on their schedule.”

Alex Streinger and Cameron Takmil contributed reporting.

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