After losing three games in a row to finish the regular season, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team will look to shake off the poor finish and make a run in the conference playoffs.
With the 2023 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) women’s basketball tournament set to begin on Wednesday, the Seawolves (17-12, 11-7 CAA) are preparing to make their postseason debut in their new conference. The last time Stony Brook was in the playoffs was two years ago when the team made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
Now in their first-ever CAA tournament as the sixth seed, the team will face off against the 11th-seeded Elon Phoenix at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The tournament will be hosted at the SECU Arena, which is the home stadium of the Towson Tigers.
After beating Hampton on Feb. 24, Stony Brook ascended to second place in the CAA standings and sat just one game out of first place. However, three-straight losses to Delaware, Towson and Monmouth sunk the team all the way down to the sixth seed.
Stony Brook faced Elon back on Jan. 22 in North Carolina and won 70-56. Due to injuries, neither team will look the same this time around.
Stony Brook will be down two very big pieces during this postseason. In the loss to Delaware, Stony Brook lost star center Sherese Pittman, who was just selected to the All-CAA Second Team. She averaged 13.2 points per game while shooting 48.8% from the field and 71.2% from the free-throw line. Pittman was the conference’s second-leading rebounder this year, averaging 8.2 per game. She was also one of the team’s best defenders, as she averaged 1.2 steals per game and led the team in blocks.
Forward Nairimar Vargas-Reyes is also likely to be inactive, as she has not played since Dec. 7 against Columbia. She has been on the sidelines with the team since then, but has not suited up. While healthy, Vargas-Reyes averaged 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on a .438/.353/.733 triple slash.
It is unclear why she has been out, as head coach Ashley Langford has never disclosed an injury. That did not change in her postgame press conference on Sunday, Feb. 26, as she said Vargas-Reyes was “day-to-day.”
Stony Brook is already surrendering the sixth-most rebounds in the conference, and missing Pittman and Vargas-Reyes will likely not make matters easier. Luckily for the Seawolves: they can score.
Led by the backcourt duo of guards Gigi Gonzalez and Annie Warren, Stony Brook is the second-highest scoring offense in the CAA at 68.3 points per game. The team scored just two fewer points than North Carolina A&T on the season. The Seawolves’ offense will go toe-to-toe with Elon’s defense, which was ranked right in the middle of the pack. Elon was ranked seventh with 64.1 points allowed per game.
Warren’s 16.7 points per game ranks fourth in the CAA and earned her a spot on the All-CAA First Team. She led the conference in three-point shooting percentage at 41.1%. She shot 42.1% overall and 84.1% from the free-throw line this season. Warren also makes an impact on the defensive end, as she is averaging 1.2 steals per game this year.
Gonzalez was an All-CAA Third Team selection this year after averaging 12.9 points per game on a .378/.298/.849 shooting line. She facilitated the offense effectively this season, finishing second in assists per game at 4.3. She led the team with 1.9 steals per game, placing her in the top 10 in the conference.
The offense also features other solid players, such as guard Daishai Almond and forward Shamarla King. Almond — who has played mostly forward this season — averaged 9.1 points per game on 39.8% shooting. She also was reliable from the free-throw line, shooting 71.4%. Her 2.5 assists per game ranked second on the team, and her 33 steals (1.2 per game) tied her with Pittman for the third-most on the squad.
King entered the starting lineup in place of Vargas-Reyes and thrived in her first year as a Seawolf. She averaged 8.0 points per game and 9.1 over the final 20 games of the regular season. She shot 43.4% from the field and 75% from the charity stripe, giving Stony Brook another reliable scoring option. She also makes an impact on the boards, as she averaged 6.2 rebounds per game.
Stony Brook’s weakness in this tournament will be its defense. The team is currently third-worst in scoring defense, allowing 65.6 points per game. Losing Pittman and not getting Vargas-Reyes back will not help matters.
Stony Brook’s defense will have the chance to get right against Elon, who has the second-lowest scoring offense in the CAA. The Phoenix’s average of 58.3 points places it only ahead of the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks. Elon is also third-worst in three-point shooting and last in free-throw shooting as a team.
Elon’s offense is at an even further disadvantage due to an injury to forward Raven Preston. Preston averaged 12.7 points per game on 45.3% shooting and 30.4% three-point shooting. Her 1.4 steals per game led the team, and her 8.1 rebounds per game was third-best in the CAA. She has not played since Feb. 24 and will not play on Thursday. Despite her absence, she was still named 2023 CAA Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.
Without Preston, Elon will have to rely on guard Lenaejha Evans, who was the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game. She shot 41.6% this year and 30.8% from deep.
Outside of Evans, center Evonna McGill has been solid. She shot 53.8% this season and averaged 9.6 points per game. Guard Chloe Williams emerged off the bench this year as a freshman, shooting 45.7% overall and 35.7% from deep.
If the Seawolves can beat Elon on Thursday, they will move on to the next round and play the third-seeded Northeastern Huskies at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Northeastern beat Stony Brook 68-63 on Feb. 9. The Huskies were eighth in scoring offense, averaging 65.4 points per game. However, they were second in scoring defense, allowing just 61.9 points per game.
Northeastern head coach Bridgette Mitchell was just named CAA Coach of the Year, while guard Derin Erdogan was named to the All-CAA First Team.
Erdogan averaged 3.8 assists per game this season, which was fourth-best in the CAA. She posted a .441/.382/.860 triple slash this year as well. Beside her on the backcourt, Northeastern guard Gemina Motema was named to the All-CAA Third Team. She averaged 12.8 points per game on 47.9% shooting. She also knocked down 81.7% of her free throws. Her 2.0 steals per game also earned her a spot on the CAA All-Defensive team. Guard JaMiya Braxton was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game.
On the frontcourt, Northeastern center Deja Bristol earned 2023 CAA Sixth Player of the Year. She posted a 61.5% field goal percentage and averaged 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game off the bench.
If Stony Brook does indeed beat Elon, it will have its hands full on Friday night against Northeastern. The Seawolves will have to overcome their injuries in order to go on a run and win the championship, but overcoming is something they have had plenty of practice with this year.