There was a lot to be confident about after the first half of the opening round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). In a battle between two defensively-minded opponents, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team took a lead and maintained it through both transition opportunities and strong post play.
In the second half, the script flipped; the Seawolves were held to 14% shooting by the VCU Rams, who used a fourth-quarter burst to take the lead for good and end Stony Brook’s season with a 56-48 defeat on Friday, March 18.
“We just didn’t make shots that we normally make,” head coach Ashley Langford said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “Credit to VCU, they went a little more zone in the second half, but we still got pretty good shots. They just didn’t fall tonight, and sometimes that’s just how it goes.”
At the Siegel Center in Richmond, Virginia, Stony Brook (23-6) led by six points with a minute and a half until halftime — the largest advantage by any team so far — after playing from behind for the entire first quarter. VCU (16-11) made it a one-possession game at the break, and never let the Seawolves go up by more than three after that.
The Rams’ 9-0 fourth-quarter run sealed the deal, creating a lead too big for Stony Brook’s 4-for-29 second-half shooting to overcome. The Seawolves’ 48 points were a season low.
“In the first couple minutes [in the second half], we were tired, but after that, no, I don’t think [fatigue] played a role,” Langford said. “We held them to 56 points, that’s pretty good. But it’s hard to beat a team when you’re only shooting 27%.”
Forwards India Pagan and Leighah-Amori Wool led the Seawolves with 11 points, followed by forwards McKenzie Bushee and Nairmar Vargas-Reyes with nine and eight, respectively. All are graduating, thus having played their final collegiate game on Friday.
“Our seniors have been with us so long. They’ve been great with their leadership, and I just hate that it just has to end for them,” Langford said regarding the hardest part about the defeat. “They put their all into this program and elevated Stony Brook women’s basketball. But all good things have come to an end at some point.”
In a tumultuous season that saw an America East ruling all but mathematically strip away the Seawolves’ ability to play in the NCAA Tournament, the WNIT gave Stony Brook a chance to still win a postseason tournament championship. Unfortunately, Langford’s first season as a head coach ends with a first-round defeat.
“It was awesome. We had a lot of adversity, but overall, I felt really good about the team,” she said about how the season went. “I enjoyed coaching them. 23 wins is a lot.”
Notably, senior guard Earlette Scott, who started 25 games and was the team’s third-leading scorer but did not play in the regular season finale, was removed from the roster prior to Friday’s contest. Langford declined to comment on the subject. Sophomore forward Kelis Corley made her fifth start of the year in her place.
The Seawolves were forced to play catch-up after VCU turned the opening tip into a second-chance bucket. They had an opportunity to grab their first advantage of the game, but a turnover off of an inbound attempt immediately resulted in a wide open 3-point shot from VCU guard Taya Robinson, the Rams’ leading scorer.
Stony Brook’s offense gelled together well in the second quarter, making seven of 12 shot attempts. When guard Annie Warren’s fastbreak triple off a VCU turnover put the Seawolves up 20-17, the Rams called timeout, but it did not put out Stony Brook’s fire. The Seawolves’ well-rounded offense capitalized by feeding the forwards down low — Bushee, Wool and Pagan were their leading scorers in the first half.
However, VCU remained in the game through sheer will on the offensive glass. The Rams’ nine offensive boards led to six second-chance points, compared to none for the Seawolves, and VCU needed those extra opportunities after beginning the game 1-for-12 from downtown. With Stony Brook up 28-22, the Rams’ second three helped make it a 29-27 game at the break. VCU shot an inefficient 32% compared to Stony Brook’s 48% in the first half, but took 13 more attempts.
In the second half, the Seawolves gained 14 offensive rebounds to the Rams’ three, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their shooting woes.
“We talk about it all the time at every timeout, saying ‘Win the glass, win the glass.’ I give them updates when we’re losing. I’m proud that they listened, and we did end up winning the glass. It just came down to not making shots,” Langford said.
Stony Brook shot 2-for-13 in the third quarter, suffering a nearly four-minute scoreless drought, and 2-for-16 in the fourth, not finding the scoreboard for almost five whole minutes.
VCU used the fourth-quarter empty stretch to go up by eight, the widest margin in the game yet. While there were still six minutes left to make a comeback, Stony Brook could not get defensive stops without fouling, and multiple late turnovers made even a miraculous run impossible to achieve.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Langford said. “We were resilient, we never gave up tonight and we fought hard.”