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Stony Brook women’s basketball upset by Drexel in 2024 CAA championship game

Shooting guard Victoria Keenan shoots a three-pointer against Drexel on Sunday, March 17. Keenan totaled 14 points and five steals in the Stony Brook women’s basketball team’s upset loss in the conference championship game. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

On the doorstep of program history, poor shooting and decision-making sunk the top-seeded Stony Brook women’s basketball team in the 2024 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) championship game.

The Seawolves (27-4, 16-2 CAA) were upset by the seventh-seeded Drexel Dragons (19-14, 10-8 CAA) at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon. Despite having numerous opportunities to come from behind and win it, Stony Brook’s untimely misses, turnovers and mental blunders were too much to overcome, leading to a 68-60 loss. Drexel clinched the CAA’s automatic bid and advanced to the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

The Seawolves picked the most inopportune time possible to have their worst game of the season. They shot just 30.6% from the field, which was a season-worst rate. Stony Brook also turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and finished with 18 for the game.

Despite the deflating loss, head coach Ashley Langford found a silver lining for her team.

“I know that we’ll grow from this and not just on the basketball court,” Langford said in a postgame press conference. “This is a life lesson and we still have basketball to play. We still have a chance to get back in the win column. But you know, they need to feel this right now. They’re going to feel it.”

The Seawolves dug themselves into a hole with yet another slow start, but this time, they never recovered. They shot just 3-for-16 from the field in the first quarter and coughed it up eight times. On the other side of the court, the Dragons’ offense did not skip a beat, as small forward Brooke Mullin drained a catch-and-shoot three-pointer on the very first possession and they never relinquished the lead.

Three and a half minutes into the second quarter, point guard Gigi Gonzalez drew Stony Brook within four points by making two free throws and a pull-up mid-range jump shot. However, Mullin continued to scorch the nets and buried back-to-back threes to spark an 11-2 run that Drexel shooting guard Amaris Baker finished with a mid-range jumper and a deep triple of her own. The stretch put the Dragons up by 13 points — their largest lead of the first half — with 4:34 left to play.

After falling behind by 13, the Seawolves shot themselves in the foot with four turnovers in as many minutes to stall their comeback efforts. They went into the break down 36-26.

Coming out of halftime, momentum shifted in Stony Brook’s favor, as shooting guard Victoria Keenan came to the rescue with eight quick points, including back-to-back three-pointers. Keenan’s hot hand was contagious, as power forward Shamarla King stepped out to the three-point line and banked in a three herself. Keenan’s effort and energy brought the Seawolves within three points, but then the misses and mistakes reared their ugly heads.

With just 1:19 left in the third quarter, Drexel shooting guard Erin Sweeney caught a dish from Mullin on the right wing and launched one from deep. Her shot popped straight into the air off the rim before falling, doubling the Dragons’ lead. Stony Brook had no answer, as center Khari Clark missed both free throws on the ensuing possession.

The Seawolves failed to get a stop before the third quarter finished, as Drexel point guard Grace O’Neill beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from the corner to make it 51-42 entering the fourth.

The Dragons remained in control through the fourth quarter, as they answered a three-point play from Gonzalez and a triple by Keenan with threes from Mullin and Baker to extend their lead to 11. With just 6:44 left to play, Gonzalez drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to get her team back within three possessions. One minute later, Drexel power forward Chloe Hodges was stood up in the paint by Gonzalez, so she kicked it out to Baker on the left wing, where she canned another three-pointer.

After seeing the deficit reach 12 points, Gonzalez drove the lane and got too aggressive, committing a charge to turn the ball over. With just over five minutes left in the title game, the Dragons pushed their lead to a game-high 14 points when center Hetta Saatman knocked down a spinning jumper in the low post.

Stony Brook had one last push in it, as over the next four and a half minutes, Langford had her players play an aggressive full-court press defense. Drexel struggled to get the ball past halfcourt, as it turned the ball over six times and shot 0-for-3 from the field during that time frame. While the Seawolves were blanking the Dragons, Gonzalez and Clark powered a 10-0 run with eight points between the two, cutting their deficit down to just four with 1:10 left.

Right after getting within four points, power forward Sherese Pittman dove to deflect a pass from Mullin and bounced it off Baker’s foot and out of bounds to force the turnover. After the steal, Langford called a timeout to draw up a play. However, they failed to execute it, as King forced an unwise pass over to Keenan that was intercepted by O’Neill at the top.

O’Neill gave way to Mullin, who was stripped by Gonzalez on the backcourt. Mullin stepped out of bounds while trying to regain the ball, giving it right back to Stony Brook. After the inbound, Gonzalez drove down the middle and tried to finish under the rim with her left hand, but it rolled off the front and was tipped out of bounds by Pittman with just 39.5 seconds left.

After that, the Seawolves resorted to fouling and sent O’Neill to the free-throw line, where she knocked down both shots to make it 66-60 with 28.6 seconds remaining. After getting the ball back, Pittman opted to drive the lane and got herself a wide-open layup, but she missed it. O’Neill hauled in the rebound and was fouled, but she missed both free throws to keep Stony Brook alive with 21.8 seconds to play.

Coming out of a timeout, the Seawolves inbounded it to Pittman, who decided to drive the lane again and picked up a charge. On the ensuing possession, King sent Hodges to the line and she buried both foul shots to ice the game.

Gonzalez led Stony Brook with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting. She also dished out five assists and picked up two steals, but her seven turnovers were killer. Keenan finished with 14 points while shooting 5-for-13 shooting from the field and 4-for-10 from deep. She led the team with five steals.

Both Gonzalez and Keenan were selected to the 2024 CAA All-Tournament Team.

Clark scored 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive glass. Pittman scored just four points on 1-of-8 shooting but totaled six rebounds, one block and one steal.

King finished with 10 points off the bench while shooting 2-for-4 from the field, 1-for-3 from deep and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. She recorded six rebounds.

As a team, the Seawolves posted a .306/.227/.810 shooting line. The Dragons were unstoppable, shooting 50% from the field, 57.9% from beyond the arc and 78.6% from the charity stripe.

Langford attributed the gut-wrenching loss to the shooting disparity.

“Today just comes down to we can’t make a shot and Drexel can make every shot,” Langford said. “Like I said, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, but I thought our team did everything we asked them to do. They fought, they stayed together. I’m proud of them; I thought they represented our university and our athletics program well today.”

Baker led all scorers with 19 points and shot 7-for-13 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range. She also added four assists. Her performance through the postseason earned her the 2024 CAA women’s basketball tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Hodges and Mullin also earned selections to the CAA All-Tournament Team.

Though Stony Brook is not going to the NCAA tournament, it has clinched a berth in the 2024 Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT) due to its regular-season championship. The selections committee has assigned it the 16th seed in the WBIT and it will face the top-seeded James Madison Dukes on Thursday night in Virginia. The Dukes are 23-11 this year after losing the 2024 Sun Belt Conference championship game 95-92 in overtime to Marshall. Opening tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

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