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Stony Brook women’s basketball starts inaugural WBIT against top-seeded James Madison

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team’s bench celebrates a big play against Drexel on Sunday, March 17. The Seawolves will take on James Madison on Thursday. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

Although the Stony Brook women’s basketball team is not going dancing, it can make amends as the eighth seed in the 2024 Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT).

After missing out on the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the Seawolves (27-4, 16-2 CAA) will take part in the first-ever installment of the WBIT. They will start their journey in Virginia at the top-seeded James Madison Dukes (23-11, 13-5 Sun Belt) on Thursday night, with opening tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.

James Madison is replacing Miami, who went 19-12 overall in the regular season and was awarded the top seed in the WBIT. However, the team notified the selection committee that it was unable to participate in the tournament. Per WBIT policy, the first-ranked, pre-identified replacement team — which were the Dukes in this case — is awarded the vacant position.

Similarly to Stony Brook, James Madison’s NCAA tournament hopes ended in heartbreaking fashion. As the third seed in the 2024 Sun Belt Conference women’s basketball tournament, the Dukes faced top-seeded Marshall in the championship game on Monday, March 11 and fell 95-92 in overtime.

Their 92 points last time out was their second-highest total of the season. They were very efficient on the day, something Stony Brook will hope to limit.

Overall, James Madison owns the fourth-best scoring offense in the Sun Belt, as it averages 72.3 points per game. The Dukes’ .422 team field goal percentage is good for third in their 14-team conference, but they struggle in other areas. They have posted marks of just .305 and .677 from beyond the arc and the free-throw line — which rank just seventh and fifth-worst in the league, respectively.

Small forward Peyton McDaniel spearheads James Madison’s offense. She leads the team with 14.8 points per game on a .430/.347/.800 shooting line. Behind her, center Kseniia Kozlova averages 12 points per game while shooting 61.0% from the floor. After starting the first 23 games she played in this year, Kozlova was given the sixth player role for the Sun Belt tournament. Both players were selected to the 2023-24 All-Sun Belt Second Team.

Shooting guard Jamia Hazell is James Madison’s third-leading scorer with 9.5 points per game. Hazell has not been very efficient, as she has shot just 38.1% from the field this year, but she has made 80.2% of her free throws. She is a valuable playmaker for the Dukes, as her 2.3 assists per game are the third most on the team.

Behind Hazell, power forward Hevynne Bristow ranks fourth on James Madison’s roster and leads the bench unit with 8.2 points per game, but she has struggled to a .408/.235/.620 triple slash. Also coming off the bench is power forward Ashanti Barnes, who is averaging 7.7 points per contest on a .442 field goal percentage.

The Dukes’ second unit also boasts a pair of centers who provide a strong post presence: Annalicia Goodman and Mikaya Tynes. Goodman — who has been starting since Kozlova took on the sixth player role — is averaging 6.0 points per game on 57.6% shooting. Tynes does not get a lot of touches compared to the other two centers, but she has still posted a .547 field goal percentage.

McDaniel’s .347 three-point percentage leads the team, followed by small forward Carole Miller at .345 and point guard Olivia Mullins at .338.

Off the bench, point guard Chloe Sterling leads the team with 2.4 assists per game. Mullins rounds up to 2.4 assists per game and is just two dimes shy of Sterling for the top spot on the squad. Power forward Steph Ouderkirk functions more as a facilitator, as her 2.1 assists per game place fourth on James Madison’s roster.

The Seawolves’ tough defense will look to take the ball away from the Dukes, who are last in the Sun Belt with a -4.7 average turnover margin per game. Point guard Gigi Gonzalez leads them with 1.4 steals per game. Center Khari Clark and shooting guard Victoria Keenan are tied for second on the team with 1.3 steals per game. Point guard Janay Brantley has made a lot of plays off the bench with 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.

Stony Brook’s defense has been elite this season, as it owns the fourth-best scoring defense (56.5 points per game) in the conference on the fourth-lowest opponent’s field goal percentage (.344) in the nation.

The Seawolves also make their presence felt with their backs to the basket, as they are fourth in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) with 3.6 blocks per game. Clark and power forward Sherese Pittman have both blocked 33 shots and are averaging 1.1 blocks per game, as they round out the CAA’s top 10 in that category.

Stony Brook is also very good on the glass, but it is statistically inferior to James Madison in that regard.

The Dukes are second in the nation in total rebounds per game (47.5). McDaniel is the Sun Belt’s 10th-leading rebounder with 7.1 per game, followed by Kozlova, who rounds up to the same number. Barnes and Bristow each haul in 5.6 boards per contest. Goodman also contributes 4.0 rebounds per night.

For the Seawolves, they lead the CAA with 42.5 rebounds per game. Pittman paces them with 7.3 rebounds per contest — which is good for sixth in the conference. Clark’s 7.0 boards per game puts her at eighth in the league. Power forward Shamarla King averages exactly six rebounds per contest off the bench.

Stony Brook’s potent offense — which did not live up to standards in its last outing — could carry it to victory. It has the highest team field goal percentage (.436), the second-highest three-point field goal percentage (.329) and the highest team free throw percentage (.758) in the CAA. The Seawolves are second in their conference with 73.0 points per game.

Gonzalez — the 2023-24 CAA Player of the Year and 2023-24 All-CAA First Team honoree — spearheads Stony Brook’s offense. She is second in the conference with 15.7 points per game on .402/.313/.823 shooting splits. Gonzalez is also second in the conference with 4.9 assists per game.

Clark and Pittman — who were both selected to the 2023-24 All-CAA Second Team — are the Seawolves’ second and third options, respectively, on that side of the floor. Clark ranks seventh in the CAA with 14.4 points per game on a conference-leading .588 shooting percentage. Pittman is third on the team with 12.9 points per game and is shooting 45.8% from the field. She is also second with 2.1 assists per contest.

Keenan was a candidate for 2023-24 CAA Sixth Player of the Year honors. She is putting up 8.8 points per game as a three-point specialist. Keenan has shot 41.2% from beyond the arc on 187 attempts. Also off the bench is King, who is averaging 6.5 points while shooting 46% from the field and 72% from the free-throw line. Brantley helps run the bench mob, as she ranks third on the team with 1.8 assists per game and leads it with a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Starting ahead of Keenan is shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez, who has posted 7.8 points per game on 39.6% shooting from the floor and 35.5% shooting from three-point range. Rounding out the starting lineup is small forward Kelis Corley: a defensive-minded player who is averaging 2.9 points per game.

James Madison’s defense is a middle-of-the-pack unit in the Sun Belt. It allows the sixth-fewest points per game (66.1) in its conference. The Dukes struggle to make plays on the ball, as they rank last in their league with 5.5 steals per game and ninth with 2.8 blocks per contest. However, they are tough on opposing shooters, as they have held their foes to the lowest field goal percentage (.360) and the fifth-lowest three-point percentage (.279) in their domain.

Nobody on James Madison’s roster averages a steal or a block per game. Hazell leads the Dukes with 0.9 steals per game, while Goodman headlines their shot-blocking efforts with 18 blocks. Bristow leads them with 0.6 blocks per contest.

If Stony Brook is able to overcome James Madison, it will move on to the second round of the WBIT on Sunday. The Seawolves would take on the winner of the game between fourth-seeded Illinois and fifth-seeded Missouri State.

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About the Contributor
Alex Streinger, Assistant Sports Editor
Alex Streinger is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. He is the beat reporter of the Stony Brook men’s soccer and nationally-ranked women’s lacrosse teams. He interns at Movendi International, the largest independent global social movement for development through alcohol prevention.
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