Seawolves look for first-ever trip to NCAA Tournament with final showdown with Maine

Courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics

Besides a different venue than expected last season, the Stony Brook Seawolves and Maine Black Bears women’s basketball teams are finally getting the opportunity they could not have last season: play the America East Championship for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Following a 13-day rest due to a first-round bye in the conference tournament, the Seawolves came into Sunday’s semifinal game against the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who they split the regular-season series with back in late December up at the Costello Athletic Center. After their early 9-point lead was cut to 1 at the end of the first quarter, Stony Brook started to go on a run that gave them a 36-22 lead at halftime. After the Seawolves outscored the Riverhawks by 1 in the 3rd, they continued to hit enough scoring plays following Riverhawk junior Kharis Idom breaking out early in the 4th quarter to lift the Seawolves over the Riverhawks 75-55.

Because the Maine Black Bears won their semifinal game against the UAlbany Great Danes 67-47, the semifinal game at IFCU arena would be the last time this season a basketball game is played on Long Island, and quite possibly for a strong senior class in All-Conference F India Pagan, 6th Player of the Year McKenzie Bushee, former 6th POTY Victoria Johnson, All-Defensive honoree Hailey Zeise, senior transfer Leighah-Amori Wool, and Jonah Cox.

The Seawolves, on Sunday, were led by Asiah Dingle, who had a team-high 14 points, part of being the leading scorer on the team all season long. Dingle has been playing strong all season, not just for leading the team in scoring, assists, and steals, but for playing under a heavy heart following the passing of her father on November 25, her first game in a Seawolves’ uniform.

The Maine Black Bears finished the regular season with a 13-2 conference record, finishing as the America East regular-season champions for the 3rd time in 4 seasons, with their superstar player, 5th-year Guard Blanca Millan, making history by becoming the first player in America East history to win multiple America East Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the in the same season. Amy Vachon, former Black Bear player and current head coach of the team, won the 2021 America East Coach of the Year.

In the last NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, Maine, as a #14-seed, played in the first round against the N.C. State Wolfpack, the #3-seed and ranked #10 in the nation at that point. At the Reynolds Coliseum, the Wolfpack ousted the Black Bears 63-51 in what turned out to be a rematch of an earlier meeting between the two teams back in December 2018 when N.C. State defeated Maine 84-46 at the same venue.

Last season, Stony Brook won the 2020 America East Regular-Season title for the first time in school history, earning the top seed in the America East Tournament. After defeating UAlbany and Binghamton in the first two tournament games, they were set to host Maine in the championship round, but were met with unfortunate news from the Stony Brook Seawolves AD Shawn Heilbron, informing them that the America East Championship was cancelled, hours before the entire NCAA Tournament and season was cancelled as well.

This upcoming matchup will be the first meeting since the weekend of February 13, when the Seawolves hosted the Black Bears at IFCU arena as both teams split the series with each other with a 5-point margin of victory for each team. This will also be the 4th playoff meeting between the Seawolves and Black Bears, as both teams have won two games in the tournament against each other. In their last playoff meeting, at Binghamton, Kori Bayne-Walker missed a game-tying 3 that would’ve sent the semifinal game into overtime, allowing Maine a 51-48 victory and advancing to the America East Championship against the eventual conference champion UAlbany Great Danes.

This game will be broadcast at 5pm on ESPNU, the Seawolves’ first televised game since February 29, 2020, at the Memorial Gymnasium at Orono, Maine. The game will also be on 90.1 FM WUSB Stony Brook. The winner will win the America East title and will go to the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio, with selections made on Monday, March 15 at 7pm on ESPN and the first-round games beginning on March 21 and 22.

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