Seawolves gear up for “Clash of Titans” series with Maine

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Image courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics

#1 vs. #2 in a conference during the regular season can look like a conference championship preview. Another top-2 conference battle is set to take place in college basketball this weekend.

Out of their second bye in conference play this season, the Stony Brook Women’s Basketball team (10-4, 8-2 AE) prepares for their toughest series in the America East this season against the conference-leading Maine Black Bears (14-1, 11-1 AE). Where both teams stand right now in the America East is where they were projected to finish the regular season, with Maine being the top seed, and Stony Brook being the runner-up.

Because of COVID-19 guidelines, the America East gave Stony Brook a bye last weekend after finishing the month of January with a sweep over the Hartford Hawks for the first time since the 2015-16 season, led by India Pagan, who averaged 18.5 PPG and earned her first America East Player of the Week award of the season.

Maine is coming off their 3rd and 4th game at home this season against the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks. After splitting the series last season with UMass-Lowell season, the Black Bears use home-court advantage despite no fans at Memorial Gymnasium to sweep the Riverhawks with a dominating Game 1 win and a nail-biting win the next day with Blanca Millan, the leading scorer for the Black Bears and in the conference, winning America East Player of the Week for the 14th time in her career.

Last season, Stony Brook and Maine split the series with the home team as the winner. On January 5, 2020, the Black Bears visited the Seawolves at IFCU Arena, and after trailing 38-34 at halftime, the Seawolves came from behind with India Pagan posting a career-high 26 points and Kaela Hilaire coming back from an injury she suffered 2 weeks before to lift the Stony Brook over Maine 73-69, keeping their hold of first place in the conference at that point.

In their rematch on February 23, Stony Brook led by 3 at halftime, and after Cheyenne Clark went 1-2 from the free throw line to force OT, Maddy McVicar led the game with 28 points to snap the Seawolves’ 22-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the nation at that point, with a 64-62 win.

Blanca Millan, the leading scorer in the conference, was unavailable for conference play last season due to a torn ACL she suffered in a loss to Arizona State during the non-conference slate, giving players like Dor Saar and America East Rookie of the Year Anne Simon the chance to step up, helping the Black Bears to a 12-4 conference record, finishing as the #2 seed in the America East Tournament.

After both the Seawolves and Black Bears got through the quarterfinals and semifinals in the America East Tournament, they were scheduled to play for the America East Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament at IFCU Arena on March 13. However, a day before the game was scheduled to start, the America East released a statement announcing the cancellation of the championship game as part of a ripple effect in college basketball that inevitably led to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, and therefore the rest of the season.

Despite the cancellation of the tournament, the Seawolves were awarded the America East title for the first time in school history after posting an historic 28-3 season.

Caroline McCombs, head coach of the Seawolves, looks to keep the Seawolves’ 5-game winning streak alive as she continues her tenure as one of the best coaches for the team in program history with over 100 career wins and is the winningest head coach in D-I history. She keeps Seawolves’ vaunted defense hot as they are currently the 4th-best scoring defense in the nation at 50.2 PPG allowed this season.

McCombs will meet up once again with the Black Bears’ head coach, Amy Vachon, in her 4th season with the team and is 9 wins shy of 100 career wins with Maine. Vachon has the Black Bears in the top 10 in scoring defense in the nation along with McCombs for the Seawolves while re-creating a dynasty that she was a part of over 20 years ago when she played for the Black Bears and helped her team upset the #7 Stanford Cardinals as a #10 seed in the 1999 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

With the Seawolves and Black Bears set to play each other IFCU Arena this weekend, they are both looking at seeking a bye in the America East Tournament to find the easiest path to win the conference title. As per the new America East Tournament guidelines, the top two seeds in the conference, currently occupied by Stony Brook and Maine, will earn a bye into the semifinals, with the semifinals and championship game held at a predetermined campus site, while the next seeds up, #3 and #4, will host playoff pod games for the remaining seeds.

Stony Brook and Maine will begin their conference series on February 13th at 3:00pm, and the second game of the series will commence a day after at 2:00pm. You can catch the action on ESPN online or listen in on WUSB 90.1 FM.

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