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One year after being denied chance, Stony Brook women's basketball is headed to NCAA Tournament

Stony Brook Seawolves players celebrate their 75-55 win

Stony Brook Seawolves players celebrate their 75-55 win against the UMass Lowell River Hawks in an America East women's basketball semifinal at Federal Credit Arena on Sunday,. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

At long last, a year later, it’s time to dance.

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team didn’t get to play this game a year ago, when the America East Tournament final was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Seawolves didn’t get a chance to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament — a trip they had never made before.

So on Friday night, all this time later, they weren’t going to let top-seeded Maine get in the way. Or a slow start. Or really anything at all.

You see, Annie Warren still felt the sting from last season. Coach Caroline McCombs had waited seven years to bring her team to this precipice. And Asiah Dingle, who joined the team last April to be closer to her father, who passed away in December, had too much for which to play.

The result: A 64-60 win at Maine’s Memorial Gym, a history-making trip to the tournament in San Antonio, and well-earned most outstanding player honors for Warren, who scored a career-high 31 points with nine rebounds. It’s the highest point total for any Stony Brook women’s player since 2007.

"It’s special," McCombs said. "Last year, we had such a magical season, and we didn’t get to cap it off. Win or lose that ballgame, we didn’t have an opportunity to lay it all out there. To remember that for the past year and this year having the opportunity to play in the championship game again — we’ve been hungry for this for a long time, and I’m just really proud of them."

The Black Bears led early but withered against an oppressive defense by second-seeded Stony Brook.

Blanca Millan (20 points) got Maine to within 62-60 with 29.3 seconds left. Maine had a chance to tie after an inbounds pass but instead kicked off a chaotic, rushed series: An off-balance corner three-point attempt by Dor Saar that was partially blocked and fell far short, and an attempted layup by Millan, who was stymied by Warren and Jonae Cox.

Maine was forced to foul Warren, who made both of her free throws to seal the game.

It feels "so good," Warren said. "Just to do this for my teammates and our coach because we worked so hard last year for it to end like that and this year, coming back and working even harder. We had to get some stops on defense so we could get our offense going, because that’s what we do. We play defense."

The Seawolves, largely playing without Dingle, who got into early foul trouble, trailed by as many as 11 in the first half. Dingle’s second-half contributions led to a 19-2 run.

"With Asiah, you could see the emotion on her face today and just how bad she wanted to win," McCombs said. "When you have players like that — she was going to will our team to this win . . . And Annie, she just came out ready to play. She’s just a worker. She comes in, she never complains and gives her hardest."

With players like that, it’s no wonder they got to the next level. Even if they had to wait for it.

New York Sports