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Stony Brook women’s basketball locks down N.C. A&T, advances to CAA title game

Center Khari Clark shoots a layup against North Carolina A&T on Saturday, March 16. Clark led the Stony Brook women’s basketball team with 14 points in the victory. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

A suffocating defensive display helped the first-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team advance to the 2024 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) championship game.

In yet another low-scoring affair, the Seawolves (28-3, 16-2 CAA) came out victorious over the fourth-seeded North Carolina A&T (N.C. A&T) Aggies (20-11, 13-5 CAA) on Saturday afternoon at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. By holding N.C. A&T to just a .296/.143/.600 shooting line, Stony Brook won 59-51 and booked its first-ever trip to the CAA championship game.

Head coach Ashley Langford loved what she saw from her team on Saturday.

“I thought it was a gutsy win; it was a team effort as usual for us,” Langford said in a postgame press conference. “It’s just really nice to see different people stepping up at different points in the game and just having that confidence. We worked a lot on the end of the game, situations and execution down the stretch, and I thought we were able to do that today. That’s what it takes to win.”

The Seawolves’ offense came out firing, shooting 50% from the field and 60% from deep in the first quarter, but their seven turnovers allowed the Aggies to stay within a point of them. The back-and-forth play ensued into the second period, as N.C. A&T tied the game at 26 apiece with 5:22 left on a jump shot from the low post by power forward Keona Curtis.

After a minute-and-a-half scoreless stretch from both sides, the Aggies got themselves a fast-break opportunity when shooting guard Maleia Bracone flagged down a long rebound on defense. Bracone went coast to coast and finished with a left-handed layup to put her team up 28-26 with just 3:53 remaining in the first half.

Off the ensuing inbound pass, power forward Sherese Pittman chucked it across the court to shooting guard Victoria Keenan, who was wide open. Keenan pump-faked, stepped back and rattled in a three-pointer to put Stony Brook back on top. On the next possession, Keenan intercepted N.C. A&T center Laila Acox’s pass and took it the distance, banking it in for a fast-break layup.

Just before halftime, center Khari Clark knocked down a free throw to give the Seawolves a two-possession lead going into the break. Stony Brook started the second half with an 8-2 run that ended with a corner three from Pittman, giving it a 10-point lead just five minutes in.

The Aggies got six points in the paint from power forward Paris Locke and center Chaniya Clark to cut their deficit down to just four with just over 34 seconds left in the third quarter. However, the Seawolves answered with a triple by shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez to make it a three-possession game entering the final frame.

Neither side scored through the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, but Acox broke the streak with a layup to cut Stony Brook’s lead down to just five points.

After being held to just one point up until then, point guard Gigi Gonzalez changed the tide of the game halfway through the fourth quarter. On three consecutive touches, Gonzalez drained a pair of three-pointers and drew a foul, leading to two makes from the free-throw line. Her eight points during a two-minute span put the Seawolves up 53-42 with just 4:27 left.

Langford spoke highly of Gonzalez for her clutch shots.

“I call her the closer, and that’s for a reason,” Langford said. “She always has big fourth quarters. I mean, that’s a fifth-year senior that is, yes, the [2023-24 CAA] Player of the Year, but is just poised and ready for those moments. She didn’t force anything, she just let it come to her.”

Over the next four minutes, Stony Brook’s defense held N.C. A&T to just 1-for-7 from the field while forcing two turnovers. The Aggies made just one three-pointer and two free throws during that stretch, while Keenan flicked in a running floater with just over a minute remaining to keep the Seawolves ahead by eight points.

To follow Keenan’s bucket, power forward Shamarla King chucked a cross-court pass to Khari Clark, who put the game away with a right-handed layup to extend the lead back to 10 with 38 seconds left. Though it tried, N.C. A&T had no miracle left in it and Stony Brook waltzed its way into the conference finals.

Clark led the way for the Seawolves’ offense with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting. She also went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. Defensively, Clark did a little bit of everything, as she pulled down five rebounds and collected both a block and a steal.

Clark was very excited after advancing to the championship game.

“There’s no words,” Clark said. “We’ve been working all summer for this and I think we’re built for this and we’re made for this and we’ve been treating every game like the championship, so we’re ready.”

Off the bench, Keenan scored 12 points while shooting 5-for-8 from the field and 2-for-3 from deep. She led the team with four steals, hauled in five rebounds and dished out a pair of assists.

Gigi Gonzalez finished with nine points on 2-of-6 shooting and co-led the team with three assists alongside Pittman. Pittman also scored nine points but did it on 2-of-5 shooting and led the team with eight rebounds and threw in a blocked shot.

Zaida Gonzalez provided a boost with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, 2-of-3 of which was from downtown. She also picked up a steal.

Chaniya Clark and small forward D’Mya Tucker co-led the Aggies with 13 points each. Clark finished with a double-double, as she grabbed 12 boards, but she shot just 6-for-17 from the field. Tucker was much more efficient, shooting 4-for-10 from the field while also recording seven rebounds and four steals.

Now, in its biggest game in three years, Stony Brook will square off with the seventh-seeded Drexel Dragons in the 2024 CAA women’s basketball championship game on Sunday. The Dragons are 18-14 overall this year after narrowly edging out sixth-seeded Towson 69-68 on Saturday. Opening tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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