Despite early game struggles, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team extended its winning streak to three games on Wednesday, Jan. 12 as it topped the Vermont Catamounts 65-59 at Island Federal Arena.
The nail-biting victory over a team that entered play with the second-best defensive numbers in the America East puts Stony Brook at a 3-1 record to start conference play.
For the second matchup in a row, senior guard Annie Warren led the charge for the Seawolves with 16 points, 12 of which came via 3-pointers. Graduate forward Leighah-Amori Wool also continued her dominance with 12 points and eight rebounds. In addition, graduate forward India Pagan and senior guard Earlette Scott racked up double-digit points and combined for 13 rebounds in their efforts to stave off an early deficit inflicted by Vermont.
The Catamounts took advantage of a sloppy Stony Brook offense in the first quarter. They scored 20 points during the first 10 minutes of play, shooting 2-for-5 from the 3-point line and sinking four free throws.
The Seawolves, on the other hand, were admittedly subpar from within the arc through the first 10 minutes of play. Despite a 62% field goal percentage during the first quarter, Stony Brook missed several opportunities from the glass.
“The first half, I was disappointed in our effort, especially on the glass, and just our lack of focus,” head coach Ashley Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “But, with veteran group experience, they responded in the second half.”
Perhaps a reason the Catamounts never got too comfortable with a lead was because of the resurgence of Stony Brook’s 3-point game. As of late, the Seawolves have struggled from the 3-point line, draining just over 20 percent of their shots from beyond the arc over their three games of conference play. Warren single-handedly reversed the team’s fortune, draining two threes in the first quarter and finishing 4-for-6 from the line.
“I just [focused on] playing hard, not forcing anything, shooting open shots and knocking them down,” Warren said. “My teammates set great screens for me all day, and they were good too. So [the Catamounts] had to guard them too. That helped me get open shots.”
Along with early struggles on the glass, the Seawolves surrendered six points off of turnovers to Vermont. Stony Brook battled back and forth in what would have been a dominant first quarter if not for their lack of communication early on.
The tide can turn so quickly, though.
Stony Brook began picking up the pieces during the second quarter, as it outscored Vermont 12-9. Did the lead still shift back and forth a few times? Of course. Was it an easy effort? Not by any means. Yet the Seawolves entered the back half with a one-point lead.
“We were communicating since the game started,” senior forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes said. “We were struggling a bit. But we had to just do what we do. And so we had the plan, and we just got stops, which was all about being together.”
Vargas-Reyes was yet another reason the Seawolves could secure a lead entering the late game. The senior accumulated eight points, seven rebounds, two turnovers and one block during 17 minutes of play. Yet it was Vargas-Reyes’ late-game performance that really helped seal the deal for the Seawolves.
The third quarter saw continued success for Stony Brook, as it increased its lead to 45-40. But the Catamounts weren’t willing to let their opponents get too comfortable in the late going as Vermont gave Stony Brook a run for its money, narrowing the lead to just three points by the middle of the fourth.
The team undoubtedly lived up to the defensive prowess that it was known for upon entering Island Federal Arena. There were multiple scenarios that saw the Catamounts on the cusp of tying back up a game that was back and forth throughout.
Yet Stony Brook’s stellar defense and aggressive ball handling allowed it to maintain the lead despite Vermont’s increased pressure. Unlike the disconnected start the team got off to in the first quarter, a unified effort on both the defensive and offensive ends characterized the second half. Moreover, the Seawolves took advantage of a statistic that was in favor of both their own team and their opponents before entering play on Wednesday: free throws.
Prior to their matchup against the Seawolves, the Catamounts were known as a strong defensive team that limits their opponents’ free throw opportunities. Vermont averaged 13.5 fouls per game, the 23rd lowest average in the NCAA, prior to facing Stony Brook. On the other side of the coin, Stony Brook entered Wednesday’s contest with the fourth-best free throw percentage in the America East.
Enter Vargas-Reyes, who approached the free-throw line with a slim three-point lead over Vermont with just 23 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not going to lie. I was nervous because I’ve been struggling with my free throws,” Vargas-Reyes said. “But I was like, ‘this is the time,’ and I just stepped up and knocked them down.”
Vargas-Reyes’ free throws put the Seawolves five points above Vermont, securing the lead and the victory in a game that was as back and forth as it gets.
“Ultimately, I was really proud of our defensive effort,” Langford said. “We got the stops at the end to disrupt them, we got a deflection and made the ball go out of bounds and they had to call another time out. Those types of things make it hard for them to run with it, so I was proud of our execution at the end of the game for sure.”
Yet Langford and the Seawolves won’t forget the obstacles that they faced in the early going of this one.
“I just really want us to put four quarters together,” said Langford. “We’ve played one-and-a-half quarters, two quarters, but we still haven’t played a complete 40 minutes yet. So when that happens, watch out.”
Stony Brook looks to continue its winning streak as it hits the road to face New Hampshire on Sunday, Jan. 16.