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Stony Brook women’s basketball begins 2024 CAA tournament run against Campbell

The Stony Brook women’s basketball players gather around head coach Ashley Langford while she draws up a play against North Carolina A&T on Sunday, March 3. The Seawolves will open their tournament run tomorrow against Campbell. CHRISTOPHER YANG/THE STATESMAN

Riding high off a seven-game winning streak to end the year, the top-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team will look to win its first-ever Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) tournament.

With the 2024 CAA women’s basketball tournament already underway, the Seawolves (25-3, 16-2 CAA) will begin their journey already in the quarterfinals by virtue of a double-bye. On Friday at noon, they will take on the eighth-seeded Campbell Camels (17-13, 9-9 CAA). The game will take place at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

Stony Brook saw Campbell twice this season and split the series, winning 73-43 on Jan. 5 in the conference opener before losing 75-73 in overtime just two weeks later.

En route to the regular-season title, the Seawolves dominated on both ends during conference play, sporting a conference-best 16.5-point differential per game against CAA opponents. Their only two losses came against Towson and Campbell — both in overtime.

Stony Brook will hope that its deeply talented roster can carry it to the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Its offense ranks second in the CAA with 72.4 points per game on a league-best 43.6% shooting from the field. The potency of the offense lies in its versatility, as it ranks second in three-point percentage (.330) and first in free throw percentage (.756).

In what has been an historic farewell tour, point guard Gigi Gonzalez was named the 2023-24 CAA Player of the Year and to the 2023-24 All-CAA First Team. She has been the lead conductor for offense, as she is the second-leading scorer in the CAA with 15.9 points per game and also ranks second with 5.0 assists per contest.

Others help Gonzalez keep the offensive engine running. The Seawolves’ frontcourt duo of power forward Sherese Pittman and center Khari Clark have lifted the team on both ends. Clark and Pittman, who were both selected to the 2023-24 All-CAA Second Team, are the team’s second and third-leading scorers, respectively.

After transferring from Loyola Marymount, Clark has had a breakout season. She ranks sixth in the CAA with 14.8 points per game and led it with a .616 field goal percentage.

Out of the 169 players in the CAA who played 25 or more minutes overall this season, Clark ranked first in player efficiency rating (30.7), first in box plus-minus (7.5) and third in win shares (5.5). The only two players ahead of her in win shares are Charleston point guard Jenna Annecchiarico and her own teammate, Pittman.

Pittman is averaging 13.6 points per game — the 10th most in the CAA — while shooting 47.9% from the field and 80.3% from the free-throw line. In the last five games alone, Pittman has averaged 21 points on 52.3% shooting. She is also second on the team with 2.2 assists per game.

The supporting cast around the three is just as formidable, as shooting guard Victoria Keenan provides a deep-spacing threat, shooting a CAA-best 40.9% from three-point range. Her 8.5 points per game rank fourth on the team. As Stony Brook’s sixth player, she has been a lifeline for its often slow-starting offense.

Shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez has also provided a scoring punch to the starting lineup with her 8.1 points per game. She has struggled ever since CAA play began, as she is scoring just six points per game on 31.7% shooting. However, her overall efficiency numbers are much better, as she is making 39.3% of her shots and 34.7% of her three-pointers.

Off the bench, point guard Janay Brantley helps run the second unit. Her 1.9 assists per game are the third most on the squad while her 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio leads it. Power forward Shamarla King has also been an effective three-level scorer with 6.7 points per game on a .467/.323/.721 shooting line.

The Camels will have their hands full, but their defense will not go down without a fight. They rank second in the conference and 12th in the nation with 54.9 points allowed per game. They are anchored by center Christabel Ezumah: a 2023-24 CAA All-Defensive Team and 2023-24 All-CAA Third Team selection. Ezumah ranks third in the league with 1.7 blocks per game.

Despite the great scoring defense, Campbell does not take the ball away. It has forced the second-fewest turnovers per game (13.2) in the CAA while also grabbing the second-fewest steals per contest (5.9). Point guard Gemma Núñez leads the team with 1.3 steals per game, followed by power forward Svenia Nürenberg with 1.0.

The Camels’ perimeter defense is also one of the best in the nation. Their .261 opponent’s field goal percentage ranks third in the CAA and ninth in all of NCAA Division I women’s basketball. Their length on the wing makes it hard to shoot over them. Shooting guards Shy Tuelle and Audrey Fuller are both 5-foot-10, Nürenberg and power forward Gianni Boone both stand at 5-foot-11 and small forward Brittany Staves is a 6-footer.

Campbell’s strength defensively is its effort on the glass, as it allows the fewest rebounds per game (31.1) in the conference. Though it ranks just eighth in boards per contest (37.2), it is fourth in rebounding margin (6.1).

Ezumah leads the CAA with 8.2 rebounds per game and pulled down 13 in her last game against Elon. After Ezumah, Nürenberg is her team’s second-leading rebounder with 4.8 per game, followed by Núñez with 4.5.

While defense has been the Camels’ calling card, their offense has been a struggle at times. Their 61.6 points per game sit at eighth in the CAA, but they have been efficient. They are fourth in field goal percentage (.414) and fifth in three-point percentage (.317), but they have the second-slowest pace in the conference with just 53.1 field goal attempts per game. Several things hold them back from getting more shots up, such as their poor turnover margin (minus-3.7 per game) and low offensive rebounding rate (10.2 per game).

Still, there are plenty of offensive threats on Campbell’s roster. Ezumah leads the team with 12.5 points per game on 56.7% shooting from the field. Tuelle is the Camels’ second-leading scorer with 10.0 points per contest on a .395/.378/.700 triple slash. Behind those two, Staves averages 8.3 points on .427/.333/.714 shooting splits.

Boone is an effective inside scorer, as she is averaging 6.7 points per game off the bench on 49.7% shooting. Nürenberg is a three-level threat, as she is averaging 6.9 points a night on a .447/.381/.808 shooting line. She is also second on the team with exactly two assists per game.

Fuller is more of a jump-shooter, but she has only shot 33.1% overall and 29.9% from deep this year. Núñez is a pass-first point guard, as her 3.3 assists per game are tied for ninth in the CAA, but she is shooting just 31.5% from the field and 18.9% from downtown.

Given the lack of depth in Campbell’s three-point shooting, it may resort to strictly going downhill. The Camels shot just 1-for-16 from beyond the arc on Thursday but scored 32 points in the paint. Center Sarah Hammack Fitzgerald may get her number called in the post, as she is their tallest player at 6-foot-3.

To punch above its weight class will be a tall task for Campbell’s offense to overcome, as it will face the second-best scoring defense (56.5 points per game) in the CAA. The Seawolves’ defensive domination spreads out further than that, as their 76.3 defensive rating is the third-best number in the nation. They have been nearly impossible to shoot against, as they boast the third-best opponent’s field goal percentage (.342) and the second-best three-point percentage (.242) in the nation.

Gigi Gonzalez leads them with 1.4 steals per game. Clark rounds up to 1.4 steals per game. Keenan is on a defensive hot streak and is now up to 1.1 takeaways per contest.

Guarding the three-point line will be the Gonzalez girls, Keenan, Brantley and small forward Kelis Corley. If Campbell does indeed decide to attack the rim all night, it will have to deal with Clark and Pittman.

Clark is ninth in the CAA with 31 blocks and 10th with 1.1 per game. Pittman flip-flops with Clark in both categories, as her 30 rejections rank 10th in the conference and her 1.1 per contest are just percentage points ahead of her for ninth. With Clark and Pittman’s efforts inside, opponents have made just 38.9% of their two-point field goal attempts.

Stony Brook’s defense is greatly aided by its rebounding, as it paces the CAA with 42.9 per game. Pittman now leads the team and ranks sixth in the conference with 7.3 rebounds per contest. Clark trails her with 7.1 boards per game, which slots her in at eighth in the league. The 6-foot King is third on the team and 11th amongst all players with 6.1 rebounds a night, while Gigi Gonzalez contributes precisely four per game.

If the Seawolves win, they will face either the 13th-seeded Hofstra Pride or the fourth-seeded North Carolina A&T Aggies on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Pride are 11-20 overall this year after beating 12th-seeded Hampton 71-55 on Wednesday and fifth-seeded William & Mary 57-53 on Thursday. As for the Aggies, they were awarded a two-round bye and are 19-10 overall this year.

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