Senior guards Shania Johnson, left, and Jerell Matthews, right, in a game against the University of New Hampshire on Saturday, Feb. 16. On Sunday, both played their final game as a part of the Stony Brook women’s basketball team in the America East Semifinals matchup against Hartford. NOOR LONE/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook Women’s Basketball faced the daunting task of strategizing how to defeat the No. 2-seeded Hartford Hawks. The Hawks swept the Seawolves by double-digits in both regular season contests, but the stakes were increased in the America East Semifinals. Stony Brook withheld its rivals blows and led for 65 percent of the game, but ultimately fell 64-59, effectively eliminating them from playoff contention.

Stony Brook struggled to contain Hartford’s rigorous trio of guards — senior Lindsey Abed, junior Sierra DaCosta and sophomore Jade Young, who dominated both sides of the court. The three combined for 39 points and were led by DaCosta, who dropped 22 and knocked down three shots from behind the three-point line. Young earned a double-double with 11 points and rebounds while Abed sank all four of her free throws while anchoring the play calling on the court.

The Seawolves pulled ahead early by connecting on 26 percent of their shots inside and taking the 12-7 lead after one quarter. Sophomore guard Hailey Zeise and senior guard Jerell Matthews knocked down back-to-back three pointers taking the 22-14 lead, the largest of the game, midway through the fourth. Abed relentlessly kept the Hawks offensive momentum alive with a bucket, but sophomore forward India Pagan dropped a layup for the 26-19 lead entering halftime.  

Hartford defensively focused on executing the full court trap to moderate success in the first half. The Hawks forced 10 turnovers, with five coming off steals and blocked three shots. Seven of the team’s 19 first-half points came off turnovers, keeping them in the game.

Stony Brook countered it with a dominant presence in the paint and scored 14 of its 26 points inside. The Seawolves controlled the boards throughout the game and earned 31 rebounds in the first half alone. Matthews led the team by grabbing 10 of its 46 overall rebounds, followed by Zeise with eight.

Hartford’s defensive strategy effectively paid off in the second half as it forced consecutive turnovers and cut the deficit to two opening the third quarter. Stony Brook’s struggle maintaining possession proved costly as Abed connected with the layup off a steal, giving her team the 36-35 lead late in the third. Despite being outscored, the Seawolves converted half their shots in the quarter and clung on to a 40-39 lead off the late Pagan layup.

Both teams traded scores opening the fourth quarter but five consecutive points by graduate forward Ella Awobajo gave Hartford the lead for good. Stony Brook continued surrendering the ball in crucial possessions and ultimately finished with 22 turnovers for the game.

The loss spells the end of Matthews’ and senior guard Shania “Shorty” Johnson’s collegiate careers. Matthews saw a mixture of starting and bench time through her first two seasons after captaining the Marian Catholic Spartans to a 31-1 Illinois State championship in 2013-14. The Chicago native made her presence felt as a knockdown three-point shooter with superior rebounding skill and natural leadership ability. The guard finished her career fourth in the program with 141 three-pointers and was named to the All-Conference First Team this season.

Johnson established herself as one of the America East’s fiercest competitors, often playing like the biggest player on the court despite embracing the nickname “Shorty.” The Maryland native transferred to Stony Brook after two seasons with the Monroe Mustangs and instantly made an impact by scoring 20 points in the 64-51 opening day win over Manhattan on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Johnson set several program records including 16 assists in the quarterfinals victory over Vermont, obliterating the single-season assists record with 228 and claiming the top two spots for single-season 3-pointers made with 95 and 96 made, respectively.

Stony Brook finished second in the America East in several categories such as averaging 65 points per game. The team allowed an average of under 57 points per game for a winning margin of eight points per game. The Seawolves finished with a 23-9 record, their best since going 24-8 in the 2013-14 season.

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