India Pagan in a game against the University of New Hampshire on Feb. 16, 2019. The senior forward had her first scoreless game since November on Feb. 23 against Albany. NOOR LONE/STATESMAN FILE

There was only ever one fitting way for the Stony Brook women’s basketball team to finish its regular season: with a stellar defensive performance. Even though this week’s series against Albany was ultimately meaningless, with the America East playoff bracket already set, the Seawolves easily swept the Great Danes in the process at home on Feb. 22 and 23.

The fast pace of Monday’s contest made it seem like the playoffs had already begun. Stony Brook defeated Albany 58-46 in a tilt-a-whirl of a game, taking an early lead only to fall behind and need a late-game surge to earn the victory. Thankfully, junior guard Annie Warren provided that surge with an 11-point fourth quarter, finishing with a season-high 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Junior guard Asiah Dingle continued her recent hot streak, scoring 12 points on 57% shooting. Her energy set the tone for the entire team; Albany had no answer for her powerful drives to the basket in transition, and was left scrambling to try and keep up.

Warren and Dingle helped Stony Brook sink 46% of their shots from beyond the arc, their best mark of the year. 

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However, ball security issues continued to plague the team. At one point midway through the game, the Seawolves turned the ball over six times in as many minutes, allowing Albany to go on a 14-2 run and tie the score. Albany sophomore forward Helene Haegerstrand had seven of those points, and led her team with 16 points and a 75% field goal percentage. 

After missing open shots throughout the third quarter, the Seawolves appeared set for a second consecutive late-game collapse. The story changed at the last possible moment, when Warren, Dingle and junior guard Earlette Scott each drained 3-pointers within the final four minutes of play to take back the lead and seal the win.

Albany produced just four points in the fourth-quarter, thanks to senior guard Hailey Zeise’s usual lightning-quick defense. She flew around the court with ease, blocking two shots and rebounding the ball four times in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

“I thought we were able to buckle down and defend in the fourth quarter,” head coach Caroline McCombs said in a postgame press release. “We found a way to create some extra possessions down the stretch and hit some big shots.”

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Despite all they did right, one major weakness in Stony Brook’s otherwise championship-caliber team was exposed: their reliance on senior forward India Pagan. Albany’s defense swarmed Pagan throughout the game, holding her scoreless for the first time since November. Without Pagan’s strong presence inside the paint, the Seawolves were forced to take low-percentage shots, something that they have struggled with all season. Their resulting point total equaled their fifth-lowest of the season.

Stony Brook defeated Albany once again on Tuesday, 62-42, leading the whole game to complete the series sweep and close out the America East’s regular season. They forced 20 turnovers and committed just 12.

The Seawolves’ starting five saw decreased minutes in the inconsequential game, giving the team a chance to show off their much-touted depth. Senior forward Leighah-Amori Wool came off the bench to score 10 points, and senior forward McKenzie Bushee controlled the paint when Pagan was resting.

They both took a backseat, however, to watch the Asiah Dingle show later in the game. She scored an absurd nine points in two minutes to kickstart a 16-0 run that took up most of the fourth quarter, pausing only to strike a pose after a particularly powerful layup. Dingle reached double digits for the seventh consecutive game and finished the regular season with a team-high 188 points.  

McCombs made a more conscious effort Tuesday to contain Haegerstrand, holding her to 10 points and proving that the Seawolves know how to shut down an opponent’s star player. That is particularly inspiring, given that Stony Brook seems to be on a collision course with Maine and fifth-year guard Blanca Millan, who erupted for a nine-point fourth quarter against them last week.

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Stony Brook made four of 18 three point attempts, regressing back towards their mean after a promising showing on Saturday. Two of those came in the first quarter, including an impressive step-back shot from Scott, but the Seawolves missed 11 straight after.

Regardless, McCombs liked what she saw during the game.

“We have a tough-nosed group, and we made plays throughout the game that we need to do heading into the postseason,” she said in a post-game press release. “We want to be playing our best basketball in March. So being mindful of how connected we are as a group is really our focus.”

The Seawolves finish the season with a 13-5 overall record and 11-3 in conference play, their fourth straight winning season and sixth in McCombs’ seven years as coach. Their defense is ranked number four in the country and best in the conference, after allowing just under 50 points per game.

As the number-two seed in the playoffs, they will spend this weekend enjoying a well-earned first-round bye before returning to Island Federal Arena on March 7 with a trip to the America East finals on the line.

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