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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Stony Brook women’s basketball to take on defending CAA champions in New Jersey

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team sits on the bench during a timeout against Drexel on Sunday, Jan. 28. The Seawolves will take on Monmouth tomorrow in New Jersey. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Following a dominant performance in the Battle of Long Island, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team will hope to cap off its two-game road trip with another big win.

The Seawolves (17-2, 7-1 CAA) will show down with the Monmouth Hawks (13-6, 6-2 CAA) in New Jersey on Sunday at 2 p.m. and aim for their third win in a row. Stony Brook sits just a game ahead of Monmouth in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) standings, making this a potential battle for a first-place tie. Both teams split the season series last year.

As the Seawolves continue to run the gauntlet of facing the best defenses in the CAA, they have finally fallen out of the conference’s lead for most point scored per game. Their offense averages 75.4 points per game, which trails just Charleston on the league’s leaderboard. They will be going toe-to-toe with the fifth-best scoring defense in the CAA, as the Hawks surrender just 56.9 points per contest.

Monmouth is the best shot-blocking team in the conference, averaging 5.80 blocks per game. It boasts a lot of size and length, especially on its starting frontcourt with 6-foot-3 center Belle Kranbuhl and 6-foot power forward Taisha Exanor. Kranbuhl leads the CAA with 2.5 blocks per game, followed by Exanor’s 1.3.

Also patrolling the paint are 6-foot-3 center Ella Farrelly and 6-foot-1 power forward Divine Dibula. Farrelly is a stretch five who also gets involved with her back to the basket, as her 13 blocks are the third most on the team. Dibula has blocked seven shots while averaging just 10.5 minutes across 15 games played, but she has missed the previous three, leaving her status unknown for Sunday.

Despite their stifling rim protection, the Hawks struggle to put pressure on the ball, as their opponents average the fewest turnovers per game (13.2) in the CAA. Their 6.3 steals per game are also the fewest on the team. Exanor’s 1.2 steals per game lead the squad, while Kranbuhl averages precisely one per contest.

Monmouth’s lack of takeaways have not hurt it one bit, as the excellent defense down low has spread to the perimeter. Opponents have shot just 26.3% from three-point range against the Hawks. Overall, opponents shoot just 36.8% from the field against their defense, which is the fifth-best rate in the CAA.

Monmouth’s height benefits it on the glass, as well. The Hawks pull down the third-most rebounds per game (41.8) in the CAA. Kranbuhl leads them and ranks in the conference’s top 10 with 7.3 boards per game, followed by Exanor’s 5.5. Small forward Kaci Donovan is 6-foot-1 and averages 4.5 rebounds per contest, and shooting guard Ariana Vanderhoop pulls in another 4.1. Off the bench, Farrelly averages 3.8 rebounds per game, which equates to 9.1 per 40 minutes.

Going up against an efficient defensive unit, Stony Brook will need to rely on its deep offensive artillery to break down the Monmouth defense. The Seawolves lead the league in all three shooting percentages and boast a .452/.350/.776 triple slash as a team.

Leading their lethal offense is point guard Gigi Gonzalez, who is second in the CAA in both points (16.5) and assists (5.6) per game. Her .410/.373/.863 shooting line is the most well-rounded one of her five-year career.

Forming an impeccable duo with Gonzalez is center Khari Clark, who is currently fourth in the conference with 15.5 points per game. Her 6-foot-2 frame allows her to score over defenders, and her excellent tough and effective layup package has left her with a CAA-best .625 field goal percentage.

Power forward Sherese Pittman has been one of the best third options in the conference, as she is averaging 11.2 points per game while shooting 45.5% from the field and 87.5% from the free-throw line. Shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez also contributes offensively, averaging 8.9 points per contest on a .442 shooting percentage. However, in conference play, Gonzalez’s slump has simply not ended, as her quiet performance at Hofstra has dropped her to just 5.6 points per game while shooting 36.7% from the field.

Stony Brook’s weapons extend to the bench, with the most notable one being shooting guard Victoria Keenan. Keenan averages 8.8 points per game and leads the CAA with a .435 three-point percentage. Another top reserve is power forward Shamarla King, who has posted a .451/.359/.735 triple slash. Point guard Janay Brantley is a pass-first player who helps facilitate the second unit, as her 2.4 assists per game rank second on the team.

The Hawks’ offensive output is decent by the CAA’s standards, as their 63.9 points per game rank sixth. They are shooting 40.8% from the field and 30.7% from deep which rank fifth and sixth in the conference, respectively.

Monmouth’s offense is a team effort; it only has one double-figure scorer. Donovan leads the team with 12.8 points per game on a .415/.369/.627 triple slash. She leads the team with 111 three-point attempts. Off the bench, point guard Jania Hall and small forward Rosalie Mercille are good floor-spacers, as well. Mercille is shooting 37.3% on 51 tries from deep while Hall is shooting 35.5% on 31 attempts.

Exanor, Kranbuhl and Vanderhoop are the team’s most efficient scorers. Exanor owns a .449 field goal percentage, followed by Kranbuhl’s .439 and Vanderhoop’s .435. Vanderhoop is the team’s second-leading scorer with 9.7 points per game.

Shooting guard Jaye Haynes was a top option off the bench for the Hawks during the first half of the season, shooting 43.3% from the field and 34.2% from deep. However, she has seen her touches go way down since CAA play began and has struggled immensely, shooting just 4-for-19 overall and 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. Despite her struggles, Haynes will still see the floor, as her 50 three-point attempts rank third on the team.

Point guard Sandrine Clesca leads Monmouth with 2.6 assists per game. Hall — who is a candidate for 2023-24 CAA Sixth Player of the Year — runs the second unit and averages 1.9 assists per contest. Kranbuhl makes some plays, too, as her two assists per game are the second most on the team.

Lacking an elite offensive player may hurt the Hawks against the Seawolves’ defense. Their 57.8 points allowed per game are the fifth fewest in the CAA. They hold their opponents to just 34.6% shooting from the field and 24.8% from deep, both of which are the second-best marks in the conference. Much of that work can be attributed to strong defense on the wing from the Gonzalez girls, Keenan and small forward Kelis Corley.

The perimeter defense gets great assistance from one of the best double-bigs lineups in the CAA. Stony Brook averages the second-most blocks per game (3.8). Clark is the conference’s fourth-leading shot-blocker with 1.4 per game, while Pittman’s 1.1 ranks her ninth.

On the glass, the Seawolves are dominant. They lead the CAA in rebounding, averaging 42.5 boards per game. Clark leads the team with 7.7 per game, placing her in the league’s top five. Pittman and King both average 6.4 boards per contest, rounding out the conference’s top 10.

Though Stony Brook owns most of the important advantages coming in, Monmouth proved last year that it has the heart of a champion. With the potential for the CAA’s top spot on the line, this figures to be a good game.

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