Stony Brook Women’s Basketball held a 64-51 lead over Manhattan through the first three and a half quarters of its regular season home opener on Saturday night, comfortable, yet not insurmountable. Junior transfer guard Shania Johnson had a debut for the ages, leading the team with 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals in 30 minutes of play.
Then, with five minutes left in the game, Johnson went down hard after being fouled on a layup attempt. The Seawolves’ offensive catalyst headed to the bench to have the trainer tend to her calf. Sophomore point guard Giolibeth Perez took the point. The team was tasked with stymying any potential Jaspers rally.
The Seawolves held strong, limiting the Jaspers to eight points in the game’s dying minutes and tacking on 10 of their own to win their first game of the year 74-59.
“Gio’s a very good point guard as well, so I had a lot of confidence in her coming in and running our team,” head coach Caroline McCombs said. “Shorty [Johnson] was playing very well, we just have to trust the team in doing what we’d been doing to that time.”
After spending the rest of the fourth quarter on the bench, Johnson walked off with her teammates at the end of the game and did not appear to be seriously impeded when leaving the court. Reflecting on her first game at Stony Brook, she was quick to credit her teammates for her standout individual performance.
“It felt great to come here and make a mark,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t do it without my team, and I just felt good about coming in today, and it just turned out great.”
Johnson played her first minutes in Division I after two years in the NJCAA playing for Monroe College in the Bronx. While she said the competition she faced tonight was greater than anything she had experienced with the Mustangs, she found the new challenge exciting.
“Here is way harder, it’s more competition,” Johnson said. “Back in my old school there wasn’t really a lot of people who knew how to play basketball, but it’s very exciting to play with a team like this.”
Johnson and junior shooting guard Jerell Matthews started in the backcourt for Stony Brook, while senior guard Aaliyah Worley started on the wing. Freshman forward India Pagan joined junior transfer forward Cheyenne Clark in the frontcourt to round out the Seawolves starting five.
Stony Brook came out of the gate sluggish in the first quarter, falling behind Manhattan 20-17 after shooting just 37.5 percent and allowing the Jaspers to hit 60 percent of their shots in the opening frame. The team turned the tide in the second quarter, scoring 19 points while holding its opponent to nine points.
“We were just really trying to buckle down,” McCombs said. “We were just trying to get stops and getting a little bit more familiar with their offense. It’s the first game of the season, so you don’t have a complete scout at that point in time.”
The Seawolves maintained their lead throughout the second half, never letting the Jaspers maintain an extended offensive run to seriously tip the scales. Manhattan’s best chance came at the start of the fourth quarter, when Stony Brook gave up seven straight unanswered points to cut the Seawolves’ lead to 58-49. McCombs called a timeout with 7:10 remaining to rally her troops.
“When we went into that timeout, coach was just telling us we gotta bring the fire back up,” Johnson said. “We let them get their little hype, and we just had to come out there with fire and get at ’em.”
Stony Brook’s poise on the backboard helped them maintain an edge in possession throughout the game. Matthews and Clark grabbed eight and seven rebounds respectively, part of an effort that netted the Seawolves 39 rebounds, half as many as the Jaspers’ 26 boards.
McCombs praised the resilience her team showed throughout the game.
“As young as we are on the court, I thought we did a good job of just continuing to persevere,” McCombs said. “When they would make a run, we just never let them catch back up.”
Stony Brook will look to capitalize on its first win of the season when the team hits the road to take on Hofstra on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.