Despite another slow start, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team powered past the UMBC Retrievers for its league-leading 22nd win on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
Forwards India Pagan and Nairimar Vargas-Reyes led the way with 11 points apiece. Forward Leighah-Amori Wool added a team-high five assists, along with nine points from the floor. Guard Gigi Gonzalez was an additional spark plug, sinking a key 3-pointer in the second quarter to distance Stony Brook (22-3, 13-2 AE) from the Retrievers (3-18, 2-9 AE) on the scoreboard.
The 66-56 victory also marked the program’s 700th all-time win.
“This program has been building,” head coach Ashley Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “It has continued to get better year after year. All the previous coaches that were here have done a good job. [Director of Athletics] Shawn Heilbron has done an awesome job, too. So, it’s great that this program is up and coming, and it’s still going and still getting wins.”
Langford continues to make historic headlines in the 2021-22 season. Her 7-0 start was the best by any head coach in America East history. She is also the first head coach in program history to win 19 games in her inaugural season; leading Stony Brook to its 700th program win is yet another accolade to add to her belt.
The final score did not reflect Stony Brook’s offensive struggles in the first quarter. During the first five minutes of play, the Seawolves only scored five points. Gonzalez and Wool were the only players responsible for cashing in on the scoreboard. Gonzalez found an open lane to sink an easy layup, while Wool picked up where she left off on Monday’s win against the Retrievers with a 3-pointer.
That was all the offense the Seawolves could put together by the halfway mark in the first.
“We made some adjustments during game one that helped us,” Langford said. “So we continued that in game two. What I’ve told the team is that it’s not really what we’re doing basketball wise and the X’s and O’s — it’s really the mental focus. It’s really just about doing what you do, but giving 2% more.”
Langford’s emphasis on staying focused from the tip-off may not have been reflected in the Seawolves’ early-game offense, but it definitely showed through defense. Stony Brook held UMBC to just 12 points to end the opening quarter. The Seawolves also prevented the Retrievers from sinking any 3-pointers in the first — a problem the team suffered from in its most recent loss to Maine.
Stony Brook’s offense gained momentum in the second quarter largely due to its point guard. Gonzalez took matters into her own hands by draining an immediate 3-pointer; she also took a few moments to slow the game down and make each possession count.
“[Gonzalez is] fast as lightning,” Langford said. “Nobody can stay in front of her when she’s confident and going downhill. She’s done a good job of facilitating and distributing more recently, getting downhill, making one-more-passes, and then picking and choosing when she’s going to shoot. She’s gotten a lot better with that as the season has gone on.”
Feeding off of Gonzalez’s energy, the Seawolves forced more possessions and secured the paint. A number of key fouls, including a UMBC charging foul drawn by Vargas-Reyes, allowed Stony Brook to build up a lead over the Retrievers. The Seawolves also increased the number of shots they took from the paint. In the first quarter, they lost the paint 8-6. Heading into halftime, they outscored UMBC 10-6 in the post.
“You can’t live and die by the threes or the jump shots,” Langford said. “Being able to get inside, we told them to just be aggressive and attack … I’ll take layups over threes all day.”
By the end of the first half, the Seawolves were looking at an eight-point lead.
From the third quarter on, the Seawolves returned to the dominant form they have shown all season. Guard Earlette Scott produced a pair of and-ones to begin the second half. Pagan followed Scott’s lead with an underhanded and-one at the halfway point in the third.
“They weren’t really doubling me, but a lot of teams have been doubling me,” Pagan said. “Although I could still score on a double, it was easier [scoring] on the one-on-one. So I went to get a bucket and got the and-one.”
Vargas-Reyes found her groove in the second half after being kept quiet in the first. The peak of her night came when guard Courtney Furr found her up the middle, Vargas-Reyes took the open lane, dodged a UMBC defender, and finished an over-the-shoulder layup. By the final buzzer Vargas-Reyes would top the scoreboard with 11 points, alongside Pagan.
“My teammates found me hustle plays and responded to me in transition plays,” Vargas-Reyes said. “I just felt like there was strong communication. When I was open, they just got me the ball.”
A dominating offensive performance by the Seawolves in the second half secured a sweep over UMBC in just a three-day span. In the wake of uncertainties regarding the team’s playoff fate in 2022, Pagan and her teammates look to continue battling for a spot as they enter the final three games of the regular season.
“We just have to keep winning,” Pagan said. “Our mindset hasn’t really changed. We still have to win every single game we can just to put us in the best position for anything in the future. We are still unsure of what’s going to happen, but we can still get a bid in the NCAA. So there are a lot of factors, but we’re just playing as hard as we can and doing everything that we can to control them.”
The Seawolves begin their final three games of the regular season with a road trip to Hartford on Saturday, Feb. 19.