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Stony Brook women’s basketball topples Drexel’s top scoring defense

Center Khari Clark sizes up a Drexel defender on Sunday, Jan. 28. Clark dropped her sixth double-double of the season against the Dragons. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Working against the top scoring defense in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA), the Stony Brook women’s basketball team handled it with ease to stay atop the standings.

Despite a week’s rest, the Seawolves (16-2, 6-1 CAA) showed no signs of rust, slaying the Drexel Dragons (9-9, 4-3 CAA) in a 62-41, wire-to-wire victory on Sunday at Island Federal Arena. Stony Brook opened the game by blanking Drexel in the opening frame, making it the first time in program history that the team shut out its opponent for a full quarter.

A trio of buckets from the Gonzalez girls put the Seawolves up 6-0 before both teams went scoreless over the next two minutes. Shooting guard Victoria Keenan broke the ice by slashing to the basket and finding center Khari Clark open in the paint with a bounce pass, allowing her to lay one in. Over the next two minutes, point guard Gigi Gonzalez and Keenan each splashed a three-pointer to go up 14-0 by the end of the first quarter.

Drexel was hapless in the first quarter, going 0-for-15 from the field and 0-for-4 from three-point range.

Head coach Ashley Langford harped on the team to play better defense after a subpar performance against Campbell last Sunday. She was proud of how the players bounced back this time around.

“It is what we preached,” Langford said in a postgame press conference. “I really think when all five of our players out there are locked in and we are communicating, we have an edge. It’s really hard to score against us.”

The game was over from that point forward. To open the second quarter, point guard Janay Brantley banked home a putback to go up by six possessions before the Dragons could even find the scoreboard. They finally broke the shutout 68 seconds into the second frame when power forward Chloe Hodges made a free throw, but she missed the next one and Stony Brook scored the next five points to go up by 20.

With just 40 seconds left in the half, power forward Shamarla King swiped the ball away from Drexel shooting guard Brooke Mullin and pushed it up the court to Gigi Gonzalez for the layup. Gonzalez’s bucket gave the Seawolves a 32-11 lead entering halftime.

The Seawolves held the Dragons to just 13.8% shooting in the first half, which stemmed from hardcore press defense. The strong on-ball defense forced Drexel — the slowest team in the CAA — to speed its tempo up and get it out of its comfort zone.

“We just stressed our own principles of ball pressure and trying to speed them up, trying to make them uncomfortable,” Langford said. “We didn’t want them to have rhythm shots. We were able to throw a different defense at them to speed them up.”

The Dragons started off the third quarter on a more competitive note, keeping it a 21-point game through the first five-plus minutes. However, Stony Brook quickly shut down any possibility of a comeback by going on a 9-0 run sparked with a layup from power forward Sherese Pittman. Clark and Gigi Gonzalez followed with layups of their own before Keenan capped off the run by draining a three from the top to take a 30-point lead.

The fourth quarter was all window dressing, allowing Drexel to make it seem slightly closer. However, the Seawolves were never in any danger, as their lead only shrunk as small as 17 points.

Gigi Gonzalez led all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting. She led the team with five assists. She attributed her efficient offensive performance to the team’s effective floor-spacing.

“Our ball movement was really good,” Gonzalez said. “We take less contested shots and try to find the open person.”

Clark finished with her sixth double-double of the season, scoring 14 points while shooting 6-for-8 shooting and grabbing a team-leading and career-high 15 rebounds. She also grabbed a career-best six steals.

Clark shared the credit for her dominance in the post to the performance of Stony Brook’s guards.

“I think it’s really dependent on my guards, too,” Clark said. “They put the ball and they give the ball to me in the shortest window right when I need it. I think credit goes to them, too.”

Pittman scored eight points on 50% shooting. Her seven rebounds were the second most on the team. She also dished out three assists, tying her with shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez for second on the squad.

Despite some sloppiness with 23 turnovers and just a 29.4% three-point shooting rate, the Seawolves shoot 50% from the field and dished out 15 assists as an offense. On defense, they held the Dragons to just 23.7% shooting from the field and 15.4% from deep.

Stony Brook will now hit the road for a two-game trip. The first stop will be right down the road in Hempstead, N.Y. against the Hofstra Pride. The Pride are 7-11 on the year and 1-6 in conference play after losing 67-62 to Hampton on Sunday.

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