Do I hear a lucky number seven?
The Stony Brook women’s basketball team extended its undefeated streak to seven games against a formidable St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers team in a 71-64 victory at home on Sunday, Nov. 28.
The Terriers (2-4) entered Sunday’s matchup on a two-game winning streak, with their latest victory coming via a 66-63 nail-biter over Michigan State on Tuesday, Nov. 23. This game marked the first time the Terriers had beaten a Power Five opponent in franchise history. St. Francis Brooklyn undoubtedly looked to carry their momentum forward against a 6-0 Stony Brook team entering Sunday’s matchup.
The Seawolves had a streak of their own to maintain. After achieving a 90-point game for the first time since 2007 in last Wednesday’s 92-81 road win over Columbia, head coach Ashley Langford was determined to continue the team’s perfect start to the season upon returning to Island Federal Arena back at home.
“I think anytime you’re at home, that gives you an advantage,” Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “Your friends, your fans, your plays, it’s the pride of protecting your own core.”
The Seawolves jumped out to an early 21-12 lead over the Terriers through the first quarter. As a team, Stony Brook went 9-for-21 on shots from inside the arc while going 2-for-5 from the 3-point line. St. Francis Brooklyn got off just five field goals in the first quarter. Stony Brook also limited the Terriers’ 3-point game to just 2-for-5 before the start of the second quarter.
The Seawolves saw huge early game contributions from graduate forward Leighah-Amori Wool and senior forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes. Wool totaled 16 points, finishing only one point behind junior guard Gigi Gonzalez for the team lead. On the other hand, Vargas-Reyes was a force to be reckoned with on both the offensive and defensive ends. She racked up a career-high 13 rebounds and scored 13 points with a field goal percentage of 63%.
“Confidence was key,” Vargas-Reyes said when asked about her rebounding success. “In the first quarter, they were running everywhere. I had to do my job and do the little things like Coach says every day. So, I put on a body and I was everywhere. That’s my thing.”
St. Francis Brooklyn’s lack of 3-point success would quickly reverse course in the second quarter. While both teams shot fairly even from within the arc, the Terriers dominated Stony Brook from outside. St. Francis Brooklyn was 4-for-10 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, while Stony Brook did not make a single 3-point shot out of four attempts. Stony Brook’s lack of offensive production, along with a decrease in pressure by the defense, allowed St. Francis Brooklyn to come within two points of taking the lead by halftime.
“I just think that we needed more intensity defensively,” Langford stated when asked to reflect on the first half. ”That’s what was bothering me. I didn’t like how many threes we gave up. I also don’t like quarters or even close to 20. We just needed to get better defensively.”
It was also evident that the Seawolves were relying heavily on their bench throughout the first half. Wool and Vargas-Reyes gave vital performances when put up to the challenge of holding the fort. Another notable performance came from graduate forward McKenzie Bushee, who put on a clinic in the late game. At one point, Bushee sank three consecutive shots from the paint with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
The graduate forward was arguably the most consistent field goal shooter in the entire game, with an overall field goal percentage of 60%. Despite Stony Brook’s defensive struggles and despite relying heavily on the bench, the Seawolves’ offense managed to keep the game close as the fourth quarter approached.
“[The Terriers] are a really good team and they were knocking down a lot of good shots,” Wool said. “They moved the ball very well. When we were in the gap, they drifted and they were really competent from the 3-point line. I think that kind of hurt us, because we weren’t pressuring as much as we should. Also, they played a lot of guards. So that changed the game plan a little bit because we were expecting to play two posts today. I think we have to do what we have to do. Not every win is going to be pretty, but a win is a win.”
Stony Brook held onto a slim 49-48 lead entering the fourth quarter. It was time to get to work.
The Seawolves returned to their dominant offensive form as the game came to a close. They went 7-for-15 in field goal attempts and cashed in on seven free throws out of nine opportunities. With 6:00 left in the game, Stony Brook had an 11-0 run, ultimately securing their seventh consecutive win in a still undefeated season.
Gonzalez, who was held to just four points through the first three quarters, came through substantially for the Seawolves. She put up 13 points in the final quarter, seven of which came during that 11-0 Stony Brook rampage.
Giving credit where credit is due, St. Francis Brooklyn held Stony Brook’s offense in check throughout most of the ballgame. The Terriers also took advantage of an inconsistent Stony Brook defense countless times throughout the battle. However, it was not enough to overcome Stony Brook’s rally power in the end.
“This wasn’t our best performance today,” Langford said. “But like I said, we did find a way. It was nice to see us get 14 assists again. That means we’re moving, sharing the ball, and making shots. So that makes me happy. We just have to tighten some things up defensively. I think without having a starter today, people stepped up. I was really pleased. Again, in the fourth quarter we came through and did get the starters we needed. We were able to be successful.”
The Seawolves will look to remain perfect as they hit the road to play the Fordham Rams on Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Bronx. Stony Brook’s leading scorer and starting point guard from last year’s NCAA Tournament run, Asiah Dingle, transferred to Fordham in the offseason after one year with the Seawolves.