Guard Kaela Hilaire in a game against Manhattan. She played in the game against Maine on Jan. 3 after returning from injury. SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

In a 2-game homestand, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team began America East play with a pair of victories, continuing the Seawolves’ best Division I start as the team improved to 14-1.

The Seawolves needed a dominant performance from graduate guard Cheyenne Clark and a scoring spurt in the third quarter to pull off their first conference win, but they prevailed 57-45 on Friday, Jan. 3 at Island Federal Arena against UMBC.

Stony Brook jumped out to a 16-11 lead after the first quarter, with junior forward India Pagan contributing five points off of Stony Brook’s paltry 28% field goal shooting. Stony Brook’s shooting woes would worsen in the second quarter, going 1-10 and letting UMBC build an 11-point lead going into halftime. 

The tide would change as Stony Brook would tighten up considerably on defense in the second half and only allow 15 points, less than what UMBC scored in the second quarter.

“It was our defense,” head coach Caroline McCombs said in a press release. “We tried to make some adjustments at halftime. We talked about our toughness — that we needed to be the tougher team. We thought that they were playing tougher in that second quarter and we really needed to make that adjustment as a team.”

Their improved defense shows on the stat sheet too, as the Seawolves would double their three steals from the first half and add three blocks as well. This would earn them 11 points off turnovers.

After taking the lead on a three from freshman guard Gigi Gonzalez midway through the third quarter, Stony Brook would pull away and earn their tenth straight win. Clark guided the Seawolves with a double-double: 15 points, 15 rebounds along with an added four assists and two steals. 

“We’ve talked a lot about different people being able to step up at different times,” said McCombs.

Clark was a large part of the Seawolves come back and it was important that Stony Brook had impact players with guard Kaela Hilaire’s continued absence.

“As KK [Hilaire] has been out for the last couple of games, it’s given different people an opportunity to run our team,” McCombs said. “It’s just so important that whoever may be out for a particular game, we have other players who are able to fill those roles.”

With the victory, McCombs earned her 100th win at Stony Brook and became only the third head coach in program history to reach the century mark. 

“You can start counting wins, but I think we became a better program when we stopped focusing on the outcome and really committed to the process.” McCombs said about the milestone.

The Seawolves were not quite done winning on the weekend, though.

In the second matchup, Pagan excelled in the paint and scored 26 points against the Maine Black Bears on Sunday, Jan. 5 to help Stony Brook capture a 73-69 win. Before the game, McCombs was recognized in a ceremony commemorating her 100th win earlier in the weekend.

McCombs still had to coach a game though, and graduate guard Kaela Hilaire’s return from injury was nicely timed as the Seawolves needed everyone on deck to beat Maine. The first half saw Maine cling to a 4-point lead despite missing reigning America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, senior guard Blanca Millan.

“Even without her, they’re a really good team,” Pagan said in a press release. “They run good offense. They play good [defense]. It was a good win for our team.” 

Pagan nearly tied a Stony Brook record in field goal percentage at 92.9% and 13-for-14 on shots total. Hilaire also contributed 10 points in the second half, including several clutch free throws to put the game away.

“This is my first year here, and I’m obsessed with beating them already,” Hilaire said.

Hilaire was beside herself being away from basketball and the Seawolves certainly missed her.

“I missed it,” Hilaire said about her brief playing absence. “This is the only thing I’m really good at, and they took it from me a little bit. I’m glad to be back with my team.”

She had not played since Dec. 22 against Western Michigan and missed two games, but the Seawolves won both anyways.

Stony Brook hope to continue their historic 11-game win streak against another conference opponent, the Vermont Catamounts, at Island Federal Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 6:31 PM. The overall series between the two teams is currently split 20-20, but the Seawolves have the edge with a record of 12-8 against the Catamounts at home.

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