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Stony Brook women’s basketball to battle with N.C. A&T in 2024 CAA semifinals

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team celebrates a playoff victory over Campbell on Friday, March 15. The Seawolves will play North Carolina A&T in the conference semifinals tomorrow. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

After a win over Campbell in the quarterfinals, the top-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team will face an even tougher test in the semifinals of the 2024 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) tournament.

The Seawolves (26-3, 16-2 CAA) will take on the fourth-seeded North Carolina A&T (N.C. A&T) Aggies (20-10, 13-5 CAA) on Saturday for a shot to go to the 2024 CAA women’s basketball championship game. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

The two sides last met on March 3 at Island Federal Arena, where Stony Brook beat N.C. A&T 76-62 to clinch the top seed and a share of the regular-season title. Now, for a pair of teams in just their second year in the CAA, the stakes have never been higher between the two.

For the Seawolves to advance, they will have to keep the Aggies’ high-octane offense at bay. N.C. A&T’s offense ranks fifth in the conference with 65.1 points per game. The offense has thrived off drawing fouls, as its 19.9 free-throw attempts per game lead the CAA. The team has shot 74.7% from the free-throw line, which is the third-best rate in the conference.

Finding efficiency has been a struggle all year long for the Aggies, as they rank just seventh in field goal percentage (.396) and are fourth-worst in three-point percentage (.274) in the CAA. While talented, many of their players have shot poorly this year, as only one player in their regular rotation has shot better than 40% from the field and 30% from three: small forward Talia Davis.

The group will be led by 2023-24 All-CAA First Team point guard Jordyn Dorsey, who leads her team with 13.3 points per game and is tied for seventh in the conference with 3.4 assists per contest. Dorsey is one of the many N.C. A&T players who are struggling with efficiency, evidenced by her .397/.289/.785 shooting line.

Her partner in the backcourt is shooting guard Maleia Bracone, who has played both the two and the three considering her 5-foot-10 height. She is the team’s third-leading scorer with 11.2 points per game, shooting 35.2% from the field and 26.2% from three-point range. She leads the Aggies with 172 three-point attempts, which is more than double the next player.

Bracone provides more than just shot-making, as she is the team’s second-leading facilitator with 2.9 assists per game.

Small forward D’Mya Tucker is N.C. A&T’s second-leading scorer with 11.3 points per game. She has been one of the most efficient scorers on the team, shooting 42.5% from the field, 29.9% from three, and 85.9% from the free throw line.

With the loss of point guard Sean Kelly Darks and small forward Nyah Willis, players such as point guard Nahndi Smith and power forward Paris Locke have seen increased roles. Smith averaged 1.6 assists during a five-game stretch where she logged 14 minutes a night. Locke, a 2023-24 CAA All-Rookie Team selectee, has averaged 26.7 minutes per contest since both Willis and Darks went down. In that span, she has averaged 7.3 points and 1.8 assists a game.

At the pivot spot, center Chaniya Clark has played a big role in the Aggies’ paint production, as her 10.1 points per game are the fourth most on the team.

In limited touches, Davis has been their most-efficient scorer with a .507/.429/.727 triple slash. Center Laila Acox is a big body who has shot 45.4% from the field this year. Also off the bench is power forward Keona Curtis, who is second on the team with a .345 three-point percentage, but it comes on just 29 attempts.

No matter what, N.C. A&T’s offense will be nothing new for Stony Brook’s defense, which is the fourth-best scoring defense (56.3 points allowed per game) in the CAA. The Seawolves have held opponents to below 50 points 10 times this season and below 40 points three times.

Stony Brook has defended well inside and outside, as it has the fourth-best opponent’s field goal percentage (.342) and second-best three-point percentage against (.241) in the nation.

It all starts on the inside for the Seawolves, as center Khari Clark and power forward Sherese Pittman have been defensive stalwarts down low. Clark is ninth in the CAA with 32 blocks and 10th with 1.1 per game. Pittman is right there with Clark in that department as she is ninth in the conference with 1.1 blocks per game and 10th with 31 total rejections. The frontcourt duo’s efforts have paid dividends, as opponents have made just 38.9% of their two-point field goal attempts, which is the 11th-lowest figure in the nation.

Stony Brook has been pesky on the perimeter as well, as it seldom allows three-point barrages. Point guard Gigi Gonzalez has led the efforts on the outside, leading her team with 1.4 steals per game. Clark is right behind her with 1.3 steals per game. Off the bench, shooting guard Victoria Keenan has been an energizer on defense, racking up deflections and forced turnovers en route to 1.1 takeaways per contest.

Point guard Janay Brantley offers defensive versatility in both the paint and on the wing, as her active hands have her averaging 0.8 steals in just 18.6 minutes per game and her 6-foot frame has allowed her to average 0.5 blocks. Small forward Kelis Corley will also be key in stopping the three-point effort, as she has started every game this year at the three because of her defensive prowess.

Considering the size and aggressive philosophy of the team, rebounds play an instrumental role in the Seawolves’ defensive plan, as they lead the CAA with 42.8 per game. Pittman is the ringleader on the glass and is sixth in the conference with 7.4 rebounds per contest. Clark is just a few spots behind her at ninth in the league with 6.9 boards per game. Another three spots down on the leaderboard is power forward Shamarla King, who hauls in 6.1 rebounds a night.

It is not only the bigs who contribute, as Gonzalez pulls down 4.0 boards per contest.

However, Stony Brook will not be head-and-shoulders taller than its opponent. The Aggies have size at all five positions, which has led to them being one of the CAA’s best teams on the boards.

Thus far, N.C. A&T ranks third in the conference with 41.0 rebounds per game and it owns the fourth-best margin on the glass at plus-5.1 per game. Chaniya Clark has been the team’s leading rebounder and is tied for second in the CAA with 8.1 per game. Locke — a 6-footer — cleans the glass effectively with 4.3 per game. Acox has been active on the glass in limited time, averaging 3.2 rebounds in just 13.2 minutes per contest.

Similar to the Seawolves, the Aggies have gotten rebounding production out of its guards and wings. Tucker is their second-leading rebounder with 5.5 per game, followed by the 5-foot-9 Dorsey with 5.3 and Bracone with 4.6.

On defense, N.C. A&T only allowed 56.2 points per game, which ranks third in the CAA.

Clark has been a defensive stopper down low with 1.2 blocks per game, which ranks sixth in the conference. At 6-foot-1, Curtis offers some good rim protection, as she averages 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes. Bracone — a 2023-24 CAA All-Defensive Team selection — is tied for fourth in the league with 2.1 steals per game. Dorsey is second on the team with 1.3 steals per contest.

As hard as it is to shoot against Stony Brook, the Aggies’ defense can say the same about themselves. They own the third-best opponent’s field goal percentage (.341) and the fifth-best three-point percentage against (.282) in the country.

Luckily for the Seawolves, they have an elite offense to fall back on. They have scored the second-most points per game (73.9) in the CAA on 44.1% shooting from the field, which leads the conference.

Gonzalez, during her 2023-24 CAA Player of the Year and 2023-24 All-CAA First Team campaign, has become the second-leading scorer in the CAA with 15.8 points per game. She poses as a passing threat as well, ranking second with 4.9 assists per contest.

As the second and third options, Pittman and Clark have had their shine in the Stony Brook offense. Pittman has surged recently, as she is up to 13.4 points per game — the 10th most in the CAA — while shooting 46.9% from the field and 80.9% from the charity stripe. She does more than just score, as her 2.1 assists per game place her at second on the team. Clark has come back to Earth but still ranks seventh in the conference with 14.5 points per game and leads all qualified players with a .608 field goal percentage.

As the sixth player, Keenan has given the Seawolves everything they have asked for and more. Shooting a CAA-best 40.7% from three-point range, her 8.5 points per game are the fourth most on the team.

Brantley runs the second unit efficiently with a team-best 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio and 1.9 dimes per game. King is a multifaceted offensive tool due to her 6-foot frame and shooting ability. Her three-point and free-throw shooting has taken a dive of late, but she is still averaging 6.6 points on a .472 field goal percentage.

If Keenan’s threes are not falling, then shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez’s might. Gonzalez has shot 34.2% from deep this year, which is second on the team amongst shooters with at least 20 attempts. She is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with exactly eight points per game.

If Stony Brook wins, it will advance to its first-ever CAA title game and face either the sixth-seeded Towson Tigers or the seventh-seeded Drexel Dragons on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Tigers are 20-10 overall this year after beating 11th-seeded Northeastern on Thursday and third-seeded Charleston on Friday by the same score: 69-60. The Dragons are 17-14 this season after eliminating 10th-seeded Delaware 57-55 on Thursday and second-seeded Monmouth 58-56 on Friday.

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