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Stony Brook women’s basketball looks to stay hot in conference opener

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team huddled around before a game against Longwood on Dec. 11. The Seawolves will open their conference season tomorrow. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

With Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) play open for business, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team will look to keep it rolling against the conference’s best defense.

The Seawolves (10-1) will take on the Campbell Camels (7-4) at Island Federal Arena on Friday night at 6:31 p.m. This will be Campbell’s first-ever conference game in the CAA, as it is the league’s newest member.

Stony Brook has the offensive edge, as its 77.5 points per game rank second in the CAA. The Seawolves’ scoring is spearheaded by four double-figure scorers, with point guard Gigi Gonzalez and center Khari Clark leading the way. Gonzalez is the CAA’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points. Her 5.5 assists per game rank second. Clark is one spot below her on the conference’s leaderboard and has scored just one fewer point than her.

Shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez has had a career year in her first season with the team, averaging 11.3 points per game. Power forward Sherese Pittman — a 2022-23 All-CAA Second Team selection — is Stony Brook’s fourth-leading scorer at 10.8 points per contest.

The Seawolves love to drive the lane and feed their bigs, leading to high-percentage shots. That has worked wonders so far, as they lead the CAA in field goal percentage (.454) with Clark’s .667 leading all qualified shooters. Power forward Shamarla King has been a big contributor to the offensive efficiency, as she is shooting 46.4% from the field this season. Zaida Gonzalez — who scores from all three levels — has been even better, shooting at a 47.4% clip.

Stony Brook is not afraid to space the floor, especially since it has shooting guard Victoria Keenan to bring off the bench. Her .400 three-point percentage on 60 three-point attempts leads the team. As a team, the Seawolves are shooting 33.8% from deep, with Gigi Gonzalez knocking down over 38% of her threes and King shooting over 36% from the same area. Zaida Gonzalez also has a good three-ball, shooting 34.3% from downtown on over three attempts per game this year.

This is not a team that can be hacked, either. Stony Brook leads the CAA with a .793 free throw percentage. Gigi Gonzalez leads the team with an 89.1% mark from the free-throw line, and Pittman trails with an 86.4% clip. King has been very good as well, shooting 84.2% from the charity stripe. Clark draws a lot of and-ones and is a respectable free-throw shooter for a big, as she knocks down 69.6% of her foul shots.

The Seawolves share the ball effectively, as well. They lead the conference in assists, averaging over 16 per game. Other than Gigi Gonzalez, Pittman and point guard Janay Brantley contribute to the ball movement, with the former averaging 2.5 assists per game and the latter averaging 2.3.

Stony Brook’s offense may be great, but Campbell’s defense sets the CAA’s bar. The Camels have the best scoring defense in the conference, allowing just 50.7 points per game. The defense is anchored by center Christabel Ezumah, whose two blocks per game are the second most in the CAA.

They have good size as a team, with power forward Svenia Nürenberg and small forward Brittany Staves standing in at 5-foot-11 and 6-feet tall, respectively. Shooting guards Shy Tuelle and Audrey Fuller are both 5-foot-10. Power forward Gianni Boone is 5-foot-11, and center Sarah Hammack Fitzgerald is the tallest regular on the team at 6-foot-3. Ezumah is just shy of her at 6-foot-2.

As a result of their height, they rank third in the CAA in team blocks, averaging 3.8 per game. However, its Campbell’s rebounding that carries its defense. The team is second in the conference in defensive rebounds (29.4) and fourth in total rebounds (40.8) in per contest. On average, the Camels outrebound their opponent by 10 per game, which paces the CAA.

Ezumah is the CAA’s second-leading rebounder, hauling in precisely nine per game. Nürenberg is second on the team with exactly five per game.

Despite Campbell’s rebounding prowess, Clark, Pittman and King usually allow the Seawolves to win the battle of the boards more often than not. Their 41.8 rebounds per game is the third-best number in the conference. They limit second chances effectively, as they are the best defensive rebounding team in the CAA, hauling in 30.5 boards per game on their own end of the court.

Pittman is sixth in the conference with 6.7 rebounds per game, while Clark ranks eighth at 6.6. King is 13th with exactly six boards per contest. Small forward Kelis Corley — one of the team’s best off-ball players — makes an impact on the glass with 3.8 rebounds per game.

The Seawolves’ 57.5 points allowed per game is the fifth-best rate in the CAA. Pittman is fourth in the conference in blocks per game (1.5), while Clark lands in sixth place (1.2). As a team, they block 4.3 shots per game — the second most in the league. Clark (1.5), Gigi Gonzalez (1.3) and Keenan (one) all average at least a steal per game.

The Camels have a competent offense to keep up. Their .446 shooting percentage is second in the CAA only behind the Seawolves. Stony Brook will have to keep them off the three-point line, as they lead the conference with a .359 percentage from deep. Point guard Gemma Nuñez facilitates the offense, leading it with 34 assists.

Amongst qualified leaders, Tuelle boasts the best three-point shooting percentage at .408. Nürenberg has knocked down 9 of her 20 threes (45%), while Staves — who shoots threes with more volume — is shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc. Fuller, the team’s sixth player, is shooting 35.3% from three.

Despite the high percentages, Ezumah is the team’s only double-digit scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game. Truelle trails her with 9.7 points per contest.

Both teams contest shots at a great rate. Campbell is holding opponents to a .333 percentage from the field and a .203 clip from deep, both of which are conference-bests. The Seawolves are no slouches defending the three, as their .257 opponent’s three-point percentage is the third-best rate in the CAA. Whoever can create rhythm threes for their teams first will have the advantage. 

In what will perhaps be a low-scoring affair, the game will likely come down to cleanliness and discipline. Stony Brook’s 14.6 turnovers per game are the second-fewest in the CAA, while the Camels’ 18.1 rank just ninth.

Depending on who can grit out more buckets, a 1-0 start looms for one of the CAA’s top contenders.

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