The look in junior guard Asiah Dingle’s eyes told the whole story.
Her expression slowly shifted from frustration to pure joy as the Stony Brook women’s basketball team mounted an 11-point comeback to upset the top-seeded Maine Black Bears 64-60 in the America East Championship, clinching the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
“With Asiah, you can see in the emotion on her face just how badly she wanted to win,” head coach Caroline McCombs said in a postgame press conference. “She was going to will our team to this win.”
Dingle’s resilience, which powered her to 20 points, was matched only by junior guard Annie Warren’s career-defining performance: 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting, the most by a Stony Brook athlete since 2007.
She drained three three-pointers in the second quarter, carrying the No. 2-seeded Seawolves as they climbed back from a double-digit hole.
“I believe in my teammates,” Warren said. “We trust each other. They believe in me, so that was giving me the confidence to keep going out there and knocking those shots down.”
After she was named the playoffs’ Most Outstanding Player, her coach had even higher praise for her.
“Annie just came out ready to play,” McCombs said. “She’s just a worker. She comes in and she never complains and she gives her hardest every single day.”
Warren kept Stony Brook in the game, but it was Dingle that gave the team momentum. She made four shots in five minutes to begin the second half, charging towards the basket with a fervor equaled only by her screaming teammates on the bench.
Maine eventually brought quadruple coverage against her, but even that could not prevent a diving one-handed layup that put Stony Brook up 39-38 midway through the third quarter.
The Seawolves outrebounded Maine by 20 during the game, an advantage that helped them preserve their lead throughout most of the fourth quarter. A foul by Warren allowed Maine to take a one-point lead with under three minutes left to play, but she answered with a falling jump shot that drew a foul of her own and put Stony Brook ahead for good.
With two seconds remaining, Dingle emerged from a five-player pile with a defensive rebound that sealed the game. Maine was forced to foul Warren, who knocked down both shots as tears flowed down her teammates’ faces.
Senior guard Hailey Zeise led a defense that held guard Blanca Millan, the America East Player of the Year, to just two points during the second and third quarters. Maine’s flurries of handoffs and screens designed to isolate Millan along the three-point arc were no match for her on-court intelligence.
Millan still finished with a team-high 20 points, but missed three shots during the fourth quarter that would have changed the game’s outcome.
“We work on [our defense] every day, we come out here and commit to that every day,” Warren said.
It has been a long journey for the Seawolves, who were set to face the Black Bears in last season’s America East finals before COVID-19 forced a cancellation exactly one year ago. After a blowout win in the semifinals against UMass Lowell, they arrived in Maine with redemption on their minds.
“Last year we had such a magical season and … didn’t get an opportunity to lay it all out there,” McCombs said. “We’ve been hungry for this for a long time. I’m just really proud of this team and I absolutely will remember this forever.”
For McCombs, already the winningest coach in Stony Brook’s Division I history, the NCAA Tournament berth was the ultimate accomplishment after being denied the chance with last season’s 28-3 team.
“We’re close, the love and the caring and the things that we talk about are genuine,” she added. “This is a special group, and I’m really excited for them. We just made history … and we’re going to give our best effort whatever our matchup is.”
Warren’s reaction summed up the looks of disbelief her teammates displayed as the final seconds ticked away.
“It feels great,” she said. “I don’t know how to feel. I’m so excited I don’t even know.”
Though the team could have lamented the lack of fans that would have stormed the court in a normal year, the only emotion felt was joy. As Dingle celebrated with her team, her words reverberated gleefully through the empty arena: “We’re going dancing!”