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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Stony Brook women’s basketball seeks glory against Drexel in CAA championship game

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team’s bench celebrates a three-pointer against North Carolina A&T on Saturday, March 16. The Seawolves will play in the conference championship game tomorrow against Drexel. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

After all of the hours it put in to get here, the top-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team sits just one win away from becoming 2024 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) champions.

The Seawolves (27-3, 16-2 CAA) will try to book their ticket to the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball tournament against the Drexel Dragons (18-14, 10-8 CAA) on Sunday at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. Opening tip-off for the 2024 CAA women’s basketball championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Stony Brook swept Drexel in the CAA regular season. On Jan. 28, the Seawolves hammered the Dragons 62-41 at Island Federal Arena before pulling off a 19-point comeback to beat them 60-58 on March 1.

To get its hands on its first-ever CAA title and only its second-ever conference tournament championship, Stony Brook will need to overcome Drexel’s defense a third time. The Dragons’ strategy of slowing the game down has allowed them to hold their opponents to just 54.9 points per game, which is the lowest mark in the conference.

Drexel’s offense helps its defense by playing keepaway. It attempts just 56.7 field goals per game, which are the fifth-fewest in the CAA. The Dragons have only committed 13.1 turnovers per game — the fewest in the conference. By holding onto the ball for as long as they possibly can, they have only allowed their opponents to attempt 51.6 shots per game, which is the lowest rate in the league.

As good as that looks on the surface, Drexel’s defense is very susceptible. The Dragons have the fifth-worst opponent’s field goal percentage (.402) and the fourth-worst three-point percentage against (.308) in the CAA.

Drexel does not make plays defensively, either. It blocks the second-fewest shots per game (2.2) and grabs the fourth-fewest steals per contest (7.0) in the conference.

Small forward Brooke Mullin leads the Dragons and ranks eighth in the league with 1.5 steals per game. Mullin’s 5-foot-11 frame allows her to also lead them with 0.7 blocks per game. Point guard Grace O’Neill and power forward Chloe Hodges both average 1.3 steals per contest. Off the bench, center Jasmine Valentine averages 0.9 steals a night.

To make matters worse, Drexel averaged just 22 defensive rebounds per game, which are the fewest in the conference. Overall, it hauls in just 33.2 total boards per game, which is the third-lowest number in the CAA. The Dragons’ rebounding numbers reveal vast underperformance, as seven of their nine regular players are 5-foot-10 or taller.

Despite that, the shortest one from the regular rotation — the 5-foot-7 O’Neill — leads them with 5.4 rebounds per game. Hodges — a 6-footer — uses her size and length effectively on the glass, as she averages 5.0 boards per game. After those two, shooting guard Amaris Baker — a 5-foot-8 wing — is third on the team with 4.3 rebounds per contest, followed by the 5-foot-11 Valentine with 4.2.

On the other hand, there is no denying or doubting the Seawolves’ defense and the success they have had. They own the third-best scoring defense (56.1 points per game) in the CAA on the third-best opponent’s field goal percentage (.340) in the nation. They are even tougher from three-point range, as their .238 three-point percentage allowed is the second-best figure in the country.

Stony Brook is the third-best shot-blocking team in the CAA, averaging 3.6 blocks per game. A pair of decorated frontcourt players — center Khari Clark and power forward Sherese Pittman — are integral pieces of the Seawolves’ defense. They both average 1.1 blocks per game. Clark’s 33 blocks rank ninth in the conference, while Pittman’s 32 place one spot behind her at 10th.

Clark also pokes the ball free quite a bit, as she averages 1.3 steals per game. Point guard Gigi Gonzalez leads Stony Brook with 1.4 steals per contest. Off the bench, shooting guard Victoria Keenan is third on the team with 1.2 steals per game, followed by point guard Janay Brantley with 0.9. Brantley’s 6-foot frame and long arms allow her to block 0.5 shots per game.

Helping defend the perimeter is small forward Kelis Corley, who has started every game for the Seawolves. Her 5-foot-10 frame and long arms should help her match up with Drexel’s big wings.

Complimenting Stony Brook’s shot defense is its superb rebounding, as it leads the CAA with 42.7 boards per game. Pittman leads the Seawolves and ranks sixth in the conference with 7.4 rebounds per contest. Clark’s 6.8 rebounds rank 10th in the CAA and second on the team. Off the bench, power forward Shamarla King averages precisely six rebounds per game.

Gonzalez is a good rebounder, as well, as she hauls in 4.0 per game.

Complementing Stony Brook’s defense is its elite offense. The Seawolves’ 73.4 points per game are the second most in the CAA. They lead the conference with a .440 field goal percentage and a .756 free throw percentage, while they’re .333 three-point percentage places second.

Gonzalez — the 2023-24 CAA Player of the Year and 2023-24 All-CAA First Team selection — orchestrates Stony Brook’s offense. She averages the second-most points per game (15.6) on a .404/.323/.816 shooting line. Her 4.9 assists per game are the second most in the conference.

Clark and Pittman have dominated the paint all season long for the Seawolves’ offense and were both selected to the 2023-24 All-CAA Second Team for their performance.

Clark is the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.5 points per game on a conference-best .605 field goal percentage. Overall, Clark owns a .605/.400/.716 triple slash. Pittman is the team’s third-leading scorer with 13.2 points per game and has shot 46.8% from the field and 80.7% from the free-throw line. Pittman also makes plays for her team, as she averages 2.2 assists per game.

Keenan is the team’s first off the bench and has thrived in the sixth player role. She has shot 41.2% from three-point territory on 177 attempts and is fourth on Stony Brook’s roster with 8.6 points per game. Starting over her is shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez, who has averaged exactly eight points per contest while shooting 39.7% from the field and 35.5% from the three-point range.

Whenever Gigi Gonzalez is not on the floor, Brantley runs the point efficiently. Her 1.8 assists per game are the third most on the team and her 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio leads it.

King is another weapon off the bench, but she is in a shooting slump. She is averaging 6.4 points per game on 45.9% shooting from the field. However, she is just one for her last 13 from beyond the arc, dropping her three-point percentage to .300.

If the Dragons’ offense does not overperform, it will be tough for them to clinch the automatic bid. Their 57.3 points per game are the fifth fewest in the CAA. They rank seventh in the conference in field goal percentage (.400) and ninth in three-point percentage (.294). They have attempted just 14.6 three-pointers per game, which is the second-lowest rate in the league.

Baker leads Drexel with 11.5 points per game on .466/.314/.717 shooting splits. Mullin is second on her squad with 10.1 points per contest, but has done so on just 32.8% shooting from the field. Her 155 three-point attempts lead the team by more than double the next player, but she has made only 31.0% of them.

Hodges is an efficient scorer in the paint, as she is averaging 8.8 points per game while leading the team with a .475 field goal percentage and an .818 free throw percentage. Point guard Momo LaClair uses her 5-foot-10 frame effectively in the post, as she is shooting 45.6% from the field.

Small forward Laine McGurk is the bench unit’s leading scorer, as she is averaging 6.5 points per game on a .370/.270/.731 shooting line this year. Her 74 three-point attempts trail only Mullin on the team’s leaderboard.

The Dragons only boast two players shooting over 35% from deep and neither of them have attempted more than 40 threes this year. Center Hetta Saatman is shooting 39.5% from three-point range on just 38 attempts, followed by shooting guard Erin Sweeney at 36.1% on 36 tries.

Mullin is their primary facilitator with the fourth-most assists per game (3.8) in the CAA. Hodges is one of the best passing bigs in the conference, as her 3.4 dimes per contest rank seventh. O’Neill is third on the team with 3.1 assists per game. LaClair leads the team with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, followed by O’Neill at 2.1.

One thing that cannot be accounted for by data is the intensity that both sides will likely bring. Both teams are likely going to be reliant on the automatic bid to get to the big dance, as neither own an NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking that is high enough to clinch an at-large bid. The Seawolves currently rank No. 68 in the nation, which puts them right on the bubble. If they lose to Drexel, who are 165th in NET ranking, they will likely drop below 68th and fall out of contention for a bid from the selection committee.

Almost all of the numbers indicate that Stony Brook is likely to win its first-ever CAA title. However, the Dragons have already beaten the conference’s second seed (Monmouth) and a pair of its top-four scoring offenses (Delaware and Towson) in the 2024 CAA women’s basketball tournament. No matter what happens, history will be made for one school.

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    MarshaMar 17, 2024 at 5:57 pm

    I’m a SB alum; my husband is a Drexel alum… Go Stony Brook!!!!

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