Graduate forward India Pagan with the ball in the game against Delaware State on Nov. 9. Pagan returned to the court after spending two consecutive games on the sideline. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

Despite coming off its first loss of the season followed by a game cancellation because of opponent COVID-19 protocols, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team looked stronger than ever in a 75-69 offensive showcase against Ivy League opponent Penn on Friday, Dec. 10.

Stony Brook saw double-digit scoring displays from four of its players, including a season-high 20 points from graduate forward India Pagan in her return to the court. Pagan was sidelined for two consecutive games, dating back to the team’s victory over St. Francis Brooklyn. Her absence was especially noticeable for a team that was lacking in offensive production over its past few games. Pagan immediately reestablished her presence on Friday night, putting up 16 of her 20 total points in the first half.

“I think [India] let us gain back a piece of a comfort zone,” head coach Ashley Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “We’re used to having Indi — then we didn’t have Indi. We don’t have Annie [Warren]. We don’t have McKenzie [Bushee]. It’s all those pieces that we just haven’t had. Of course, she is a comfort, she is experienced and she just makes everyone feel and look better. It’s a gift.”

The Seawolves battled back and forth with the Quakers in the first half. Penn’s offense was led by junior guard Kayla Padilla and sophomore forward Jordan Obi, who combined for 47 of the Quakers’ 69 points. Yet despite these aggressive performances, Stony Brook was able to hold Penn’s offense in check. 

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“I knew today was going to be a competitive game,” said senior forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes. “They came out playing super hard. So I told myself that I had to play stronger and harder because I knew it was going to be a physical game. So I was prepared for that.”

Vargas-Reyes played a fundamental role in Stony Brook’s defensive strategy, especially throughout the first half. Just when the Quakers were about to overpower the Seawolves with an aggressive offensive push, Vargas-Reyes answered back with an equally gritty approach on the defensive end. With just over eight minutes left in the second quarter, Vargas-Reyes sank a shot from the paint to take a 23-21 lead. Shortly after, she dashed down the court and had the block of the season, keeping the ball in Stony Brook’s hands as much as possible. Vargas-Reyes would finish the game with a career-high 14 rebounds.

On the offensive end, Pagan’s success from the paint was the name of the game for Stony Brook in the first half. Straight from tip-off, Pagan gave the Seawolves a much-needed spark from within the arch. She sank eight of Stony Brook’s 13 field goals within the first two quarters, allowing the team to take a three-point lead going into the back half of the game. Pagan also racked up eight rebounds and went a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

“I was just being more aggressive,” said Pagan. “They didn’t really have that many top players, so I just attacked as much as I could. The girls passed me the ball, and they had the confidence in me to go get that bucket. So I was just being aggressive and having confidence in myself.”

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Stony Brook’s offense was able to seal the deal as it continued to outperform its Penn counterpart in the second half. The Seawolves saw notable late game contributions from graduate forward Leighah-Amori Wool and senior guard Earlette Scott, who both finished with 10 points to help bolster the lead. 

Junior guard Gigi Gonzalez also came to life in the second half. With 8:30 left in the game, Gonzalez piled onto the Seawolves’ lead with a huge steal followed by a fastbreak, a layup and a personal foul drawn to the bewilderment of the Quakers. After sinking the layup and draining the free throw, Stony Brook’s lead was extended to nine points. Gonzalez stayed relatively quiet throughout the first two quarters, but she proved yet again just how clutch she can be in the late going. Gonzalez clawed her way back with 14 points and three assists by the close of the fourth quarter.

The Seawolves’ dominance over the Quakers was a refreshing reminder of the offensive prowess that Stony Brook maintained in its 7-0 start to the season. As of late, Stony Brook faced adversity both on and off the court. Their last outing resulted in a disheartening loss against Fordham that put an end to the Seawolves’ undefeated season. Then, looking to bounce back against Marist, Stony Brook woke up to the news on Tuesday that Marist was pausing all team activities because of COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re all really competitive,” said Langford. “None of us like to lose, right? We were all itching to play Marist so that we could just get rid of that loss, honestly. So yeah, it was a letdown. But it’s just another opportunity and it is also important to understand that it is an opportunity to be grateful to play a game because [the opportunity] could be taken away at any moment.”

What appeared to be the season’s low point was simply a blip on the radar for the Seawolves. Stony Brook’s comeback victory over Penn proved they are in it for the long haul. Given talents like Pagan in the starting five, it doesn’t appear that many more defeats are on the way.

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The Seawolves will have a 10-day break before heading to Hempstead to face Hofstra on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

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