Shania “Shorty” Johnson is often the smallest player on the court. The nickname, which she wears like a badge of honor, is fitting.
At 5-1, Johnson stares down taller defenders with a confidence and swagger befitting her production. Saturday afternoon was just another day at the office.
The senior guard had 28 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and four steals as the Stony Brook women’s basketball team rolled against UMass Lowell, 76-56, in front of 791 at Island Federal Credit Union Arena. India Pagan scored a career-high 20 points, including 12 in the first quarter.
“[The nickname] came from my mom’s friend in middle school, and it stuck with me since then,” Johnson said. “I take that name anywhere I go. Even in school, I tell my professors to call me ‘Shorty.’ I let people know. I’m not afraid of anybody taller than me, ever.”
With time winding down in the third quarter, Johnson dished to Hailey Zeise in the right corner. Wide open, Zeise drained the three-pointer as the horn sounded, giving Stony Brook a 60-49 lead and effectively deflating the Riverhawks, who had closed the gap to eight points on Bri Stiers’ putback.
Oksana Gouchie-Provencher (nine points) opened the fourth quarter with a putback and a short jumper for Stony Brook (12-3, 1-1 America East), which didn’t look back from its 64-49 lead.
“I think it gave us a lot of momentum,” coach Caroline McCombs said. “I think it gave us confidence. You saw Shorty give Hailey a big hug, so I think everyone was pumped up.”
“That’s expected from Hailey,” Pagan said. “For Hailey to make that, the whole bench was up.”
McCombs lauded Zeise for her performance in the five games without senior guard Jerell Matthews, who McCombs said is without a timetable to return with an injured hand. Matthews averaged 15.9 points in 10 games this season.
Two of Stony Brook’s three losses have come in games Matthews has missed, including a rough 64-36 loss to Hartford in the America East opener on Jan. 2. Hartford and Maine are considered Stony Brook’s two biggest competitors in the conference.
Anastasia Warren, who started in Matthews’ place, had six points and four assists. She’s one of a trio of role players — the other two being Jonae Cox and Chantz Cherry — who have played meaningful minutes these last five games.
“It was big,” Pagan said of the way the Seawolves answered the loss to Hartford. “We knew we could get the win. We just knew we needed to bounce back off that loss.”
After an explosive offensive first quarter for both teams, Johnson provided the necessary spark on both ends. With Stony Brook leading 24-22 entering the second quarter, the Seawolves adjusted to Riverhawks shooters Linda Svenne and Kharis Idom and limited their looks.
Stony Brook held UMass (5-10, 1-1) to just eight second-quarter points. Johnson had 10 points in the period, and Stony Brook took a 42-30 lead into the half. McCombs wasn’t short in defining Johnson’s impact.
“She just is a spark,” McCombs said. “She pushes the ball, she finds the open player. She’s just a dynamic player. She’s exciting to coach.”