In its second game in five days against the No.6-seeded Vermont Catamounts, No.3-seeded Stony Brook Women’s Basketball was far from having a repeat performance from Saturday’s victory. The Catamounts found their offensively commanding catalyst in junior forward Hanna Crymble, who scorched the Seawolves’ defense for 15 first-half points on near-perfect shooting. Meanwhile, senior guard Shania ‘Shorty’ Johnson, the team’s leading scorer this season, was unsuccessful in knocking down a single-field goal through the first 20 minutes.
Stony Brook was only down 33-27 exiting halftime, in part due to sophomore forward India Pagan’s team-leading 10 points and Johnson’s game leading 10 assists. Pagan kept the game close by scoring six points opening the third quarter, but the Seawolves needed another offensive producer in order to retain the lead. Johnson obliged, finding her groove with a step-back 3-pointer before attacking the basket with Pagan in a 10-2 Seawolves run, gaining the 49-41 lead.
Stony Brook utilized the scoring drive by knocking down 78 percent of its third-quarter shots with nearly all coming from Johnson and Pagan. The burst sparked a 42 point second half for the team capped off by a career-high 21 points from Pagan and a conference record 16 assists from Johnson. With the 69-58 victory on Wednesday, March 6, the Seawolves advanced to their first America East Quarterfinals since the 2015-16 season.
“I’m very proud of our team today,” head coach Caroline McCombs said. “I thought we got off to, I don’t know if it was a slow start, it wasn’t as strong as we wanted it to be. So we really took that halftime to regroup and I thought we came out unbelievably in the third quarter especially and throughout the second half.”
Pagan was Stony Brook’s leading scorer and kept the struggling offense afloat with 10 first-half points. The forward seemed unbothered by contact and often powered through clustered Vermont defenders around the basket. The sophomore played like a veteran in her second collegiate playoff game, showcasing interior dominance on 10-13 shooting and by grabbing six rebounds.
“It just felt good to be able to produce that [for] to my team,” Pagan said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that without my teammates, without ‘Shorty’ giving me the ball. It’s playoff season, we all have to come to play to play every single game, play every team like they are the number one team, and just play together.”
Johnson earned her fifth accolade this season by dishing out 16 assists, the most in a conference playoff game and trouncing the old Quarterfinals record of nine. The guard seemed unnerved with her cold first half shooting and finished with 14 points, earning her eighth double-double of the season.
“I knew I was off but I was trying to get myself in the game,” Johnson said. “I knew it was going to come to me, so I just kept feeding them the ball and let the game come to me instead of just rushing my shot.”
Stony Brook finished the second half shooting 50 percent from three and nearly 52 percent from the floor. Senior guard Jerell Matthews finished the game with 20 points and knocked down six shots behind the three-point line, with forwards redshirt-sophomore Oksana Gouchie-Provencher and sophomore Hailey Zeise each adding one. The team excelled at giving its players on the court chances at converting shots in scoring drives.
“The longer we are together, the more we get a feel,” McCombs said. “When someone is hot we try to give them the ball, they feed off each other. Defense creates opportunities for us so we are running in transition and that is a big part of your opportunity to get something from ‘Shorty.’ What I love is we have been able to connect a lot of the time throughout the year.”
All four hosting teams advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2011. Since there were no upsets, Stony Brook is now the lower seed and will play the No.2-seeded Hartford Hawks. Although the Seawolves failed at taking either contest in the regular season, they are aware of the improvements needed in order to advance to the finals.
“[We] have got to take care of the ball,” McCombs said. “We have to execute offensively so those are things will be working on the next two days. I think we improved from our first meeting to our second meeting and are excited for the opportunity to have the chance to play them again.”
Stony Brook will travel to West Hartford, Connecticut carrying a wave of momentum heading into its most significant game of the season against Hartford on Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m.