Stony Brook women’s basketball head coach, Caroline McCombs, at a practice in the fall of 2019. The team won a game against Maine on Feb. 13. SARA RUBERG/STATESMAN FILE

In what could very well be a preview of the America East final in March, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team proved that they can keep up with Maine’s explosive offense in a series split this weekend. The Seawolves strung together seven excellent quarters of play, but fell apart at the end of Sunday’s game and blew a chance to overtake Maine in the standings.

The recent history between Maine and Stony Brook made this matchup of the conference’s two best teams all the more exciting. When they met last February, Maine snapped Stony Brook’s impressive 22-game win streak. The Seawolves should have had their chance for revenge in last year’s America East finals, but that game was canceled because of COVID-19.

Stony Brook certainly seemed to be aware of their unfinished business on Saturday afternoon. Coming in energized after 14 days of rest, the Seawolves earned a hard-fought 59-54 victory in a game that featured 11 lead changes. They extended their win streak to six games, while ending Maine’s win streak at nine.

Though the series was billed as a matchup between senior forward India Pagan and Maine fifth year guard Blanca Millan, arguably the two most prolific players in the America East conference, it was junior guard Asiah Dingle that lit up the scoreboard. Dingle began the game as if she were the only player on the court, sinking four contested layups en route to a nine-point first quarter. She finished with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, and made two free throws in the final 30 seconds to put the game out of reach. 

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Stony Brook’s defense was predictably dominant, keeping Maine well below their average of 67 points per game. Senior guard Hailey Zeise shadowed Millan for much of the game, holding her to a dismal 4-for-18 on field goal attempts. Millan scored only 12 points, tying her lowest total of the season. 

Zeise’s performance included a highlight-reel block late in the second quarter, as she sprinted across the court to stop a Millan layup and draw a foul. She also added eight rebounds, helping the Seawolves to go on a 14-2 run in the third quarter and take a lead that they never relinquished. 

Sophomore guard Anne Simon and senior forward Maeve Carroll led Maine with 17 and 13 points, respectively. Carroll consistently beat Pagan inside the paint, exposing the lone weak point in Stony Brook’s otherwise stout defense. Simon was quietly efficient, making two three-point shots and adding four more field goals off of just ten attempts.

Though the Seawolves were excellent inside the paint, three-point shooting continued to be a problem. Their perimeter passing looked sloppy, and they did not make their first three-pointer until sophomore guard Gigi Gonzalez came off the bench late in the fourth quarter. That lone shot was vital however, giving Stony Brook a five-point lead that proved to be too much for Maine to overcome.

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After Maine squandered a late comeback attempt with two misses to close out the game, an ecstatic Seawolves team ran to center court to celebrate. Head coach Caroline McCombs was slightly more reserved in her analysis of the matchup: “Maine is a very good team, and we both understand the importance of this game,” McCombs said in a post-game press release. “We took care of business today, and it’s a quick turnaround for tomorrow.”

That quick turnaround did not seem to faze Stony Brook for most of Sunday’s contest, but a late-game collapse ended their bid to overtake Maine for first place in the standings and resulted in a bitter 54-49 loss.

The Seawolves appeared poised for a blowout victory early on, taking a 16-point lead during the second quarter. Zeise continued to play superb defense against Millan, holding her to just six points in the first three quarters. Pagan matched her point total from Saturday’s game with two baskets in the first 30 seconds, and was a strong presence throughout the match. She scored 12 points on 80% shooting and played strong defense against Carroll.

But Stony Brook’s offense stalled in the third quarter with eight missed shots and frequent turnovers. Strong defensive play bailed them out of those turnovers at first, but that all changed after Maine senior guard Dor Saar drained a three-point shot with seven minutes left to play. That kicked off a 30-second sequence that left the Seawolves reeling; two turnovers and five Maine points later, Stony Brook’s lead was cut to two points. 

Millan took control of the game from there, reminding Island Federal Arena why she is considered the best player in the America East. She recorded two steals, three rebounds, and nine points in the final six minutes of regulation. Stony Brook was forced to take shots from beyond the arc to try and keep pace — four to be exact — but missed three of them, and headed to the locker room with perhaps their most disappointing loss of the season.

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With the number-one seed now likely out of reach, the Seawolves will look to wrap up the number-two spot next week at UMass Lowell.

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