ALBANY - In only her third year on the job, Stony Brook women's basketball coach Beth O'Boyle has her team playing for the America East championship.
The Seawolves overpowered New Hampshire on the boards and with second-half defensive pressure for a runaway 79-59 victory in the semifinals Sunday at SEFCU Arena.
In Monday's 4 p.m. championship game here, if the Seawolves (24-7) upset top-seeded Albany (27-4) -- which beat Hartford (13-18) in the other semifinal, 65-51 -- they will earn an automatic NCAA bid.
Second-seeded Stony Brook now is assured of a WNIT bid even if it loses to Albany.
"It's great," O'Boyle said. "Stony Brook is a special place. I knew when I took over we could build it and do it the right way. The players bought in, and the credit goes to them. I'm lucky I get to coach them, and we're excited to go after an America East title."
After the Wildcats (19-12) cut a 12-point deficit to 36-30 at halftime, Elizabeth Belanger -- who had 12 first-half points for UNH -- opened the second half with a driving layup to make it a four-point game.
But Jessica Ogunnorin held Belanger scoreless for the next 16 minutes, and a Stony Brook defense that allowed the Wildcats to shoot 50 percent in the first half and 60 percent from three-point range dropped those numbers to 32.4 percent and 27.3 percent in the second half. Belanger finished with 18 points but was no factor in the second half, and she let her frustration show in a tussle with Ogunnorin. "Yeah, we both wanted it," Ogunnorin said. "It's competitive. But I respect her as a player . . . It was knowing what she likes to do and trying to counter it."
Ogunnorin (14 points, seven rebounds) was one of five Seawolves who scored in double figures, including backup guard Teasha Harris (16), Chikilra Goodman (13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), Sabre Proctor (13) and Kori Bayne-Walker (10). Stony Brook built a 48-25 rebounding advantage, including 20-7 on the offensive glass.
In the second half, Harris and Ogunnorin totaled nine points in a 17-2 run that pushed the Seawolves' lead to a high of 24 points at 67-43. "We had a real big focus on getting to the rim as much as we could," said the 5-7 Harris, who often broke down the UNH zone. "Then if we had a kickout three, we'd take it."
The victory came at a dear cost for the Seawolves, who lost starting guard Miranda Jenkins (seven points, six rebounds) to what appeared to be a serious right knee injury in the second half. "She has been an energy spark for us all year," O'Boyle said. "I don't know yet what her status is, but if she's on the bench, she'll be the loudest player on the bench."
Although Albany has home- court advantage in the title game, the Seawolves snapped the Great Danes' record 38-game America East winning streak in the regular-season finale on the same court.
"I'm excited, but I know it's going to be a battle," Goodman said. "As a team, we'll have to try and beat Albany again."