Sophomore forward India Pagan shoots a basket during a 2018 game. Pagan gave Stony Brook its offensive kickstart by scoring the team’s first six points against UMass Lowell on Saturday, Jan. 5.  PHOTO COURTESY OF STONY BROOK ATHLETICS

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team split its opening America East Conference matchups in two divergent performances. The Seawolves struggled with controlling the ball against a vigorous Hartford Hawks defense and fell 64-36 on Wednesday, Jan. 2. However, the team responded with an impressive overall performance and defeated the UMass Lowell River Hawks 76-56 on Saturday, Jan. 5.

Sophomore forward India Pagan gave Stony Brook its offensive kickstart by scoring the team’s first six points against UMass Lowell. Pagan dominated the River Hawks’ defenders inside the arc and scored 12 of the Seawolves’ 24 first quarter points. UMass Lowell battled back from a 24-16 deficit and closed the gap to two points off a jump shot by graduate forward Katherine Smith.

Stony Brook successfully halted the comeback attempt by holding its rival to just two successful shots out of 13 attempts in the second quarter. Offensively, the Seawolves shot 66 percent from the field and capitalized off two shots from three by the America East Player of the Week, senior guard Shania “Shorty” Johnson, for the 42-30 lead.

“We came out hot in the first quarter but so did they,” head coach Caroline McCombs said in a press release. “[The River Hawks] really responded so I think that was big for us to come out. I think our effort was consistent throughout the course of the game. We’re just really proud of how we responded.”

UMass Lowell contested Stony Brook by effectively drawing shooting fouls in the third quarter. The River Hawks knocked down seven of their eight attempts in the third and cut the deficit to 55-47. However, the team could not slow down Stony Brook’s offense and sophomore guard Hailey Zeise made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to regain the double digit lead at 60-49.

Zeise anchored the Stony Brook defense and led the game with seven total rebounds. She also helped in holding UMass Lowell to seven points in the fourth quarter while also assisting Johnson on offense with a three that iced the game.

Stony Brook finished the game with a 53 percent field goal percentage and compiled eight 3-pointers. Johnson recovered from the lackluster offensive night in the prior game by tying her season-high 28 points and leading the game with 11 assists, earning her sixth double-double this season. Pagan finished with a career-high 20 points off 66 percent shooting.

Although Stony Brook was successful against UMass Lowell offensively on Saturday, it had no answer to Hartford’s defensive coverage. The Hawks excelled at creating opportunities for taking the ball away from the Seawolves by forcing 21 steals and capitalizing off 26 turnovers, converting them into 34 total points.

“Give credit to Hartford,” McCombs said in a press release. “They came in and really executed their game plan. They try and turn you over and they did a great job of that against us tonight. We weren’t composed and didn’t handle their press well and that’s who they are. We have to improve moving forward.”

While each Hartford starter scored in the beginning of the game, Stony Brook relied on Pagan and Zeise for keeping the contest close. Pagan knocked down a layup and gave the Seawolves the 14-12 advantage for what was ultimately their only lead of the game, late in the first quarter. The Hawks closed out the first with five straight points for the 17-14 lead and never looked back.

Hartford carried the momentum from junior guard Sierra DaCosta’s half court buzzer beater, closing out the first half and extending the lead to 31-20. The Hawks played their best in the third quarter by shooting over 70 percent. They outscored the Seawolves 21-5 and took the 52-25 lead closing out the third.

Graduate forward Ella Awobajo and senior guard Lindsey Abed toppled the Seawolves defense by combining for 30 points, nine steals and five rebounds. Stony Brook was unable to contest the aggressive Hartford defense and shot 24 percent from the field overall with Pagan alongside freshman guard Anastasia Warren, leading the Seawolves with eight points each. The America East Rookie of the Week got the start in place of injured senior guard Jerell Matthews, the second highest scorer from three, and made two of the Seawolves’ 3-pointers in 25 attempts.

Stony Brook will look to carry the successful momentum when it begins a two-game road stretch, starting with the Binghamton Bearcats on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m.