Stony Brook’s Leighan-Amori Wool tries to block a shot by UMaine’s Alba Orois during the America East women’s basketball championship game on Friday in Orono. Stony Brook won, 64-60, to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. Monty Rand photo

The warning signs were there from the regular season. The University of Maine’s top-seeded women’s basketball team had a hard time scoring against Stony Brook.

It happened again Friday night when it mattered most.

After taking an 11-point lead early in the second quarter, the Black Bears struggled to score and Stony Brook had a two-player answer for Maine’s defense all game long.

Behind a career-high 31 points from junior guard Annie Warren and 20 from slashing guard Asiah Dingle, Stony Brook won its first America East championship, 64-60, at Memorial Gym in Orono.

Stony Brook (15-5) will advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time, earning the league’s automatic bid. The Seawolves will learn their opponent and seed on Monday night.

Maine, America East champions in 2018 and 2019, finishes at 17-3.

America East has not had an at-large team qualify for the 64-team NCAA tournament since 2010. The championship loss was almost assuredly the last game in a Maine uniform for two-time America East Player of the Year Blanca Millán, fellow-fifth-year senior Fanny Wadling and senior starters Dor Saar and Kelly Fogarty.

“It’s awful. I’ve been here before so I know how it feels. I’m just proud of my team. It’s been a very hard season and we made it this far,” said an emotional Millán. “I know underclassmen will do great, they’re very good players.”

This was the sixth straight season Maine has advanced to the league championship game. Last year’s game, which would have been at Stony Brook, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To make history with this team, with this program, is really special,” said Stony Brook Coach Caroline McCombs. “Maine is a great team. We knew it would be a back-and-forth game and I’m really proud of my team’s perseverance.”

When Fogarty knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:20 left in the second quarter, Maine led 31-20, and was shooting 12 of 19 from the floor.

But in short order both Maeve Carroll, who had 11 points (“Carroll always hurts us,” McCombs said), and Millán were on the Maine bench for the rest of the half with two fouls each. Maine shot 13 of 43 (30.2 percent) for the rest of the game. Overall, Maine was 4 of 20 on 3-point attempts.

In the first seven quarters of two regular-season games at Stony Brook, Maine shot 30.6 percent from the floor (17.9 percent on 3s), losing the first game and then pulling out the second with a strong fourth quarter.

“I had Maeve and Blanca out so I’ll probably kick myself a lot for that,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon. “We had those two out and then we gave up open 3s and they hit their shots and we didn’t score in the third quarter.”

Maine was outscored 12-7 in the third but the trouble started in the second quarter. Stony Brook finished the half with an 8-0 run with Warren making two 3-pointers to cut Maine’s lead to 36-33.

Millán made Maine’s first shot of the second half, then Stony Brook shut down the Black Bears. In an 11-0 run, Dingle, a 5-foot-4 guard, scored four baskets at the rim and Warren made a 3-pointer to build a 44-38 lead. Maine got a desperately needed 3-pointer from Anne Simon, and a layup by Simon late in the third quarter cut Stony Brook’s lead to 45-43 entering the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter was more up-tempo but Maine couldn’t contain Dingle’s penetration and Warren kept contributing with 11 points.

“That’s what it was, (Dingle) penetrated and got to the rim and hit some big shots and Warren, she shot 11 of 18. That’s remarkable,” Vachon said. “They just made shots. They’re a great team.”

Maine did take a brief lead, 56-55, with 2:33 to play on two Carroll free throws, only to have Dingle slice to the basket for a deuce. After Simon missed a 3-pointer, Warren followed with a 3-point play for Stony Brook.

When Dingle scored on another drive with just 31 seconds left to give Stony Brook a 62-58 lead, it appeared the game was decided. But Millán was able to score quickly and then Wadling stole the ensuing inbound pass with 26 seconds left.

A 3-point attempt by Dor Saar was blocked and, after Wadling tracked the ball down, Millán was unable to convert a layup in traffic. Warren ended up icing the game with two final free throws.

Millán led Maine with 20 points. Saar was held to five points, none in the second half, and missed all seven of her 3-point attempts. Simon scored seven points, but was also held below her average of 12.8 points per game. Carroll finished with 13 points. Freshman guard Alba Orois provided a first-quarter spark and finished with eight points.

As has been the case all season, fans and local media were not allowed inside Memorial Gym because of the state’s COVID-19 crowd limits. Players and coaches were available to media in Zoom calls after the game.


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