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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Stony Brook women’s basketball looking to return to NCAA tournament

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team celebrates the end of practice on Sunday, Oct. 22. The Seawolves are picked to finish in second place in the Coastal Athletic Association this year. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Untimely injuries nixed the Stony Brook women’s basketball team’s chances to win a title in its new conference. Now in their second year in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA), the Seawolves are ready to rise once again.

In its first year as a member of the CAA, Stony Brook was in second place with only three games left in the regular season. An injury to star center Sherese Pittman derailed the team, causing it to fall from second to sixth place. The Seawolves’ once-promising 2022-23 campaign came to an end in the second round of the CAA tournament, finishing with an 18-13 overall record. Even though they were only in sixth place, their 11-7 record in conference play had them just two games behind top-seeded Towson.

More than seven months later, the team has a chance to start fresh once again. Recently, the team was picked to finish second in the 2023-24 CAA women’s basketball preseason poll, earning two first-place votes along the way.

Head coach Ashley Langford likened the talent on this year’s team to that of the 2021-22 team that went 23-6 and earned a bid to the 2022 Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

“I think we have more offensive weapons and I think we will be more balanced in terms of scoring this year,” Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “It reminds me of our first year, where we had five or six people who would pick it up every night.”

Last year, Stony Brook had the second-best scoring offense in the CAA. In the offseason, the offense lost shooting guard Annie Warren, who is the program’s all-time leader in three-point makes. However, the Seawolves retained starting point guard Gigi Gonzalez, who has developed into a star.

Gonzalez earned a selection to the 2022-23 All-CAA Third Team after being one of the best two-way guards in the conference. Her 12.5 points per game were the third-most on the team, and her 4.3 assists per game ranked second in the CAA. Her 60 steals led the team and were tied for the fifth-most in the conference. Now a graduate student in her fifth year, Gonzalez was selected to the 2023-24 Preseason All-CAA Second Team.

Gonzalez feels the team is coming into this season with the right attitude.

“I just feel like it’s going to be a very energized team, a very gritty team, a team that has a lot of edge,” Gonzalez said. “I just feel like we’re never going to give up when we’re on that court together.”

Accompanying Gonzalez on the backcourt are point guard Breauna Ware and shooting guards Kelis Corley, Victoria Keenan and Zaida Gonzalez.

Corley is the only returning player in the group. She is a taller wing — standing in at 5-foot-10 — who plays good defense and shoots three-pointers. Last year, as the team’s sixth player, Corley had the third-highest shooting percentage (.311) on the team while also racking up 29 steals and 15 blocks over 31 games played. Corley may very well be the team’s best defender on the wing, and her versatility will get her minutes at small forward as well.

To become more well-rounded, she spent the offseason working on her offensive game.

“I’ve been working on my attacking moves to the basket,” Corley said. “I shoot a lot of threes and I want to work on getting to the basket because teams will expect me to shoot a lot of threes this year.”

Langford expects Corley, who is now a senior, to have a breakout season this year.

“Kelis Corley is number one on my radar,” Langford said. “She’s always a glue player for us, and I trust her tremendously. She’s so versatile, she can defend every position, she’s smart, she shoots very well. It’s a breeze for her.”

From the new group of guards who will definitely see action, three are transfers. Keenan is a sharpshooting graduate student that the team acquired from Seton Hall. She knocked down 42.0% of her 88 career three-point attempts there. Gonzalez is a junior combo guard from Florida International University who likes to shoot mid-range jump shots and play defense.

Ware is a sophomore who likes to attack the basket and create shots for her teammates. She shot 45.0% as a freshman at St. Bonaventure last year and was second on the team with 53 assists despite getting most of her minutes off the bench.

Also in the backcourt is freshman Janay Brantley, a 6-foot point guard who Langford said may see playing time. As a high school senior at Catskill High School in upstate New York, Brantley averaged 28.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 7.2 steals per game.

Rounding out the backcourt is point guard Khalis Whiting, a sophomore who only played 21 minutes last year. She knocked down six of her eight free throws as a freshman.

In order for Stony Brook to improve, it is going to have to play much better defense. Last season, the Seawolves had the third-worst scoring and second-worst shot defense in the CAA. They allowed the fourth-highest three-point field goal percentage. The team was also mediocre on the glass, hauling in the seventh-most rebounds per game in the conference.

Langford believes that playing good defense will be the difference between Stony Brook falling short and winning it all.

“To win a championship, we have to defend much better,” Langford said. “Defense determines if we’re going to win the game and offense determines how much we’re going to win by. That’s always been my philosophy.”

Not only will the guards need to defend better, but the frontcourt will be integral in the team’s hopeful defensive turnaround.

Leading the frontcourt is Pittman, who was a 2022-23 All-CAA Second Team selection and a 2023-24 Preseason All-CAA First Team. She was Stony Brook’s best big last year, averaging 13.7 points per game across 27 appearances. Her .488 field goal percentage was just one point shy of the CAA’s lead, and she also posted a respectable .712 free throw percentage.

She developed a face-up game throughout the season, finding her points not only in the paint but also from mid-range and occasionally three-point territory. Continued progress in that area will be vital for the team’s success, and Pittman knows that.

“I’ve been working on the three ball a lot, trying to get a lot more consistent with that,” Pittman said. “I want to rebound more [and] play harder. I want to play at a higher level than last year.”

Pittman’s defense was solid last year. Her 24 blocks were the ninth most in the conference, and she averaged 1.2 steals per game. She made a huge impact on the boards, averaging the second-most rebounds per game (8.2) in the CAA. She does it on both ends, as she led the conference with 3.4 offensive rebounds per game.

Power forward Shamarla King and center Khari Clark will get significant minutes alongside Pittman on the frontcourt.

King is a 6-foot senior who has experience playing shooting guard and small forward, but she started 23 games at the four last year in place of former power forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes. King averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year in her debut season with the Seawolves. Shooting and defense are King’s bread and butter, as her 42.1% field goal percentage was the third-highest on the team and her 32 three-point makes were tied for the second most.

King was the CAA’s 12th-leading rebounder despite not being a full-time starter until the second month of the season. In her 23 starts, she averaged seven rebounds per game, which would have ranked 10th in the conference.

King wants the defense to communicate better and be more aggressive this year in order to improve as a unit.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re guarding the ball very well this year,” King said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re in the right spaces on the court … so that we can trust that our teammates are behind us; that they’ve got our back. And once you’re pressuring the ball, you’re not going to allow the ball to go into the basket.”

Langford seconds King’s opinion.

“As a player you have to have a defensive mentality; it has to be a little bit innate,” Langford said. “You have to communicate tremendously on the defensive end, talking all the time. You can be a good one-on-one defender, but if you can’t talk and help your teammate, that’s how you have breakdowns.”

As for Clark, she is a graduate student who transferred after four years at Loyola Marymount. She does a lot of things well, such as score inside, defend in the post, rebound and block shots. Her 6-foot-2 frame makes her a viable option at center, but her ability to stretch the floor has earned her a lot of minutes at power forward.

Langford said that Clark’s presence will likely shake up the lineup, as Pittman may move to the power forward spot, which would relegate King to the three if Langford opts for a big lineup. She will definitely play alongside Pittman, but her exact role is not defined yet.

Clark was a top-10 shot blocker in all four years of her career at Loyola Marymount, and she was a backup in two of those seasons. She has averaged as many as 9.9 points per game in a season and owns a 6.6 career average. She is also good from the free-throw line, sinking exactly 70% of her attempts after making 82.9% of them last year.

Other players may fill in on the frontcourt, such as small forwards Lauren Filien, Dallysshya Moreno and Hannah Simmons. Filien is a returning sophomore who only played 44 minutes and took eight shots, yet she made five of them and went 4-for-7 from deep. She also hit both of her free throws. Filien brings size as well, as she is 6-foot-1, which may earn her minutes in the low post at the four.

Moreno and Simmons are both freshmen with two different skill sets and intangibles. Moreno is a 6-foot freshman who Langford said “loves to play defense.” Simmons is a 5-foot-9 shooter off the wing who averaged 10 points per game on 55% shooting as a senior in high school according to her college recruiting page.

Stony Brook also boasts a pair of 6-foot-3 centers off of the bench in senior Liza Field and sophomore Delaney Yarborough. Neither played very much last year, but their height gives them more options in the paint off the bench.

Power forward Nyajuok Toang is a returner who would have likely been a defensive role player this year, but she is out indefinitely with an undisclosed knee injury.

If the Seawolves’ elite offense carries over into this year and their defense takes the giant leap they are hoping to, then they may very well capture their first-ever CAA title. Their quest for an NCAA tournament appearance will begin on Monday, Nov. 6 at Island Federal Arena when they host the Columbia Lions at 6:31 p.m.

Mike Anderson, Kevin Yu and Aidan Steng contributed to reporting.

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