The Stony Brook women’s basketball team won their first America East regular-season title on Wednesday, Feb. 19 after a 72-68 defeat of the Vermont Catamounts (12-15, 6-8) at the Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, Vermont.
The Seawolves (25-1, 13-0) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games, continuing to hold a flawless record in conference play and surpassing the program’s previous records for most wins a season, set in 2014.
“Our team has worked really hard,” head coach Caroline McCombs said in a press release. “They know that it’s another step in the process. They deserve it, but we’re not done. We just want to finish what we started.”
The Seawolves had to work hard for this game. Vermont junior guard Josie Larkins and freshman forward Delaney Richason started the scoring, putting the Seawolves down in a 9-0 hole after the first four minutes of the game. Stony Brook sophomore guard Anastasia Warren answered back with a 3-point shot, followed by a layup from junior forward India Pagan to cut the deficit to four points, 9-5.
Vermont fluffed their early lead late in the first quarter, when grad student Cheyenne Clark stole the ball and fed it to Warren for another 3-pointer. Another bucket from Pagan tied the game at 18. However, a last-second layup from Catamounts freshman guard Emma Utterback put Vermont up 20-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Stony Brook continued their push in the second quarter, but Vermont had an answer for every score. Graduate guard Kaela Hilaire, junior forward McKenzie Bushee, junior guard/forward Victoria Johnson and redshirt-junior center Oksana Gouchie-Provencher combined for 14 points in the frame. The Catamounts kept their lead as Larkin, Utterback, sophomore guard Sarah Wells and freshman forward Delaney Richason combined for 15 points. Utterback hit another buzzer-beating bucket to give Vermont a 35-32 lead heading into the half.
The Catamounts stayed on top as the game reached the third quarter thanks to Utterback and Wells. When it seemed as if Vermont was pulling away with the lead, which was extended to as large as nine points at 50-41 with 3:56 left to go in the quarter, Stony Brook had a response of their own. Warren countered with a layup and a 3-points shot to pull the Seawolves within six.
Strong defensive play by Gouchie-Provencher and precision scoring from Hilaire led a 10-0 Stony Brook run that gave the Seawolves a 51-50 lead, but they still trailed 51-54 at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter was defined by back-and-forth scoring. Stony Brook trailed Vermont 64-63 with 3:12 remaining in the game after Pagan made one of two free throws at the line. Warren hit a jumper to put the Seawolves back on top, but Utterback drew contact and hit both foul shots as Vermont went back up 66-65.
Warren made the bucket of the game when her fourth 3-pointer of the night put the Seawolves up 68-66 with 2:04 left. On the other end, she grabbed the defensive board and was sent to the line to put Stony Brook up by multiple possessions down the stretch.
“This was a hard-fought game on both ends,” McCombs said. “I thought Vermont did a great job of really attacking us early. They made us work for everything that we got. I’m really proud of our team. We had a lot of different players who stepped up in key moments.”
Warren finished with a game-high 22 points, one of three double-digit scorers for the Seawolves as Hilaire had 17 and Pagan had 11. Larkins led the Catamounts with 21 points.
Stony Brook looks to continue their win streak on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. The Seawolves take on the Maine Black Bears (13-14, 9-4), the preseason favorite to win the America East, who have overcome early injury struggles to settle into second place in the conference standings.