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Clark’s 30-piece pushes Stony Brook women’s basketball past Monmouth

Center Khari Clark shoots a free throw against Drexel on Sunday, Jan. 28. Clark scored a career-high 30 points on Sunday at Monmouth, seven of which came from the free-throw line. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Adding onto what has been the best season of her career, center Khari Clark delivered her magnum opus for the Stony Brook women’s basketball team.

Although they started cold, the Seawolves (18-2, 8-1 CAA) were able to find their footing and defeat the Monmouth Hawks (13-7, 6-3 CAA) 78-62 on Sunday afternoon. For the second time this year, Clark set a new career high in points, as she dropped 30 to carry her team to victory.

Stony Brook got off to another one of its signature cold starts, shooting just 1-for-11 through the first five minutes. Monmouth seized the opportunity, as a three-pointer from small forward Rosalie Mercille capped off a 14-4 run to open the game.

With just three minutes left in the first quarter, point guard Gigi Gonzalez found Clark wide open in the paint for an easy layup. On the next possession, shooting guard Victoria Keenan did the same, feeding Clark under the basket for a routine basket. Power forward Shamarla King joined in on the party in the paint, forcing the Hawks to turn all their attention to protecting the rim. Now with the perimeter open, King knocked down a three-pointer and Gonzalez ended the frame by hitting a pair of free throws to cut the Seawolves’ deficit to just one point.

Stony Brook went back to the well in the second quarter, as power forward Sherese Pittman found Clark open under the basket for another layup to give their team its first lead of the day. Clark went on to score the Seawolves’ first 13 points of the quarter, going 5-for-5 across all three levels and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. Her dominance gave them a 37-31 advantage going into halftime.

Stony Brook opened up the second half riding Clark’s hot hand, as she scored seven of its first nine points after the break. A pair of free throws from point guard Sandrine Clesca and an and-one layup by power forward Taisha Exanor kept Monmouth within 10 points through the first half of the third quarter, but it all went downhill afterwards.

Over the final five minutes of the third frame, the Seawolves went on a 22-7 extended run on the back of 11 points from Gonzalez. Their star facilitator attacked the Hawks downhill with a trio of layups and kept them spaced out by draining a three-pointer halfway through the run. She also dished out an assist on a catch-and-shoot triple by Keenan.

Gonzalez’s dominance grew Stony Brook’s cushion to 25 points entering the fourth quarter, putting it out of Monmouth’s reach.

The final 10 minutes were all for pride and statistics, as it was far too steep of a hill for the Hawks to climb. They dominated the final frame, outscoring the Seawolves 19-10, but the closest the game ever got was just 13 points with 3:13 left. Gonzalez put the fire out with a bucket at the 2:53 mark, and a free throw followed by a layup from Clark made it an 18-point game with just 1:32 to play.

Clark’s 30-point performance was very efficient. She reached the milestone on 11-of-16 shooting from the field while making her only three-pointer and seven of her 10 free throws. Of her 30 points, 18 came from within the paint. She also grabbed six rebounds to co-lead the team with Pittman.

Clark’s career performance marked the second 30-point game by a Stony Brook player this year after Gonzalez scored 30 in a 77-65 victory at Towson on Jan. 12. Gonzalez was instrumental in this game as well, scoring 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting while co-leading the team with five assists alongside Keenan.

Pittman was second on the team with 18 points while shooting 7-for-10.

Though the Seawolves’ offense was effective, their defense drove them to victory. Monmouth shot just 41.2% from the field and 26.3% from deep while turning the ball over 20 times — 10 more than Stony Brook.

Head coach Ashley Langford commended her players for their defensive effort.

“I’m really happy with how focused we were on the defensive end,” Langford said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics. “All of our players were locked into the scout and executed the game plan well.”

On the other side, small forward Kaci Donovan led the Hawks with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting but went just 1-for-7 from three-point range. Center Belle Kranbuhl swatted three shots and corralled six rebounds, but she fouled out with 6:33 left in the game.

The Seawolves will return to Island Federal Arena to host the Towson Tigers on Friday night. The Tigers are 12-8 this season and 4-5 in Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) play after beating Charleston 66-59 on Sunday. Opening tip-off is set for 6:31 p.m.

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