Two freshmen leading women’s basketball charge

Originally published in The Statesman

Stony Brook Women’s Basketball is off to its best start in America East history, beginning the conference slate with a 5-1 record. The team recently tied the Division-I program record by winning nine consecutive games before losing at Albany on Thursday. Over the course of those contests, the team outscored its opponents by 10.4 points per game.

The recent success has been spearheaded by two freshmen—forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo and guard Davion Wingate—who have starred for the Seawolves in recent weeks.

“We’re playing with confidence now,” Anyagaligbo said. “I can say for a fact that in our second game of the season, against Hofstra, I was terrified out there. Now we’re playing with more confidence and we know each other better. We’re playing as if we want it. We’re hungry for these games now.”

Anyagaligbo is one of two freshmen in the nation averaging a double-double per game this season, the other being Southern Mississippi forward Caitlin Jenkins. In addition, Anyagaligbo is looking to become the first player to average a double-double in the America East since the 2003-04 season. Perhaps more impressive is that she is making 59.3 percent of her shots, the best rate in the conference.

Anyagaligbo has started alongside senior forward Brittany Snow in the frontcourt each game this season for the Seawolves The freshman says she has learned a lot while following in the footsteps of Snow, the team’s leading scorer.

“Britt[any Snow], she just works so hard,” Anyagaligbo said. “She’s like a role model to me. Anything she does, I want to do it too.”

One of the other veteran leaders of the team, junior guard Kori Bayne-Walker, has missed much of the last month’s games with a lower-body injury first suffered against Wagner on Dec. 18 game and then re-aggravated against Binghamton on Jan. 6. According to Stony Brook Athletics, the Seawolves are aiming for Bayne-Walker to return next Saturday, when the team takes on Vermont at home.

“Those are some tough shoes to fill,” head coach Caroline McCombs said after Friday’s loss against Albany. “[Wingate has] done an outstanding job of coordinating everything we’re doing, stepping into that role. Being able to score the ball, finding open players, I think Davion has done an outstanding job of running our team.”

Wingate has excelled in the interim, acting as the starting point guard and averaging 14.1 points per game in her last nine games. Wingate, described in the past by McCombs as more of a scoring guard than a traditional point guard, says she has been working with Bayne-Walker to better run the Stony Brook offense.“It’s been a good opportunity for me to learn the point guard position better and learn some things from Kori,” Wingate said. “She always tells me to be confident.”

Wingate’s confidence has shown on the court, particularly late in games. Against Binghamton, she scored 17 points in the second half to lead her team to a comeback victory after her team trailed by 16 midway through the third quarter.

“I just don’t want to lose,” Wingate said, describing her tendency to take games over late. “I hate, hate, hate to lose.”

Although the pair of Seawolves freshmen have not seemed to have too much trouble at the collegiate level, Anyagaligbo spoke to the adjustment from high school to the NCAA, particularly the difference in game length. College women’s basketball has ten-minute quarters, making the game in total eight minutes longer than high school girl’s basketball, which has eight-minute quarters.

“I have to say that the eight minutes added onto the game have been a huge difference for me,” Anyagaligbo noted. “You have to be in better shape. The game’s longer and the court’s longer.”

Wingate has seen a huge uptick in playing time with Bayne-Walker out—she has played 322 of 325 total minutes of action in her last eight games.

The nine-game winning streak for the women’s basketball team had coincided with a 10-game winning streak from the men’s team, and one would be mistaken to think the players were unaware.

“There’s a friendly competition between the guys and the girls,” Anyagaligbo said in a mid-week interview. “You don’t want to be the first ones to lose, you know?”

Although the women’s team was ultimately the first of the two programs to lose in conference play, the pair of freshmen are no longer lacking in the confidence that had hindered them early in the season.

While Anyagaligbo acknowledged she was “terrified” before the November game against Hofstra, that is not the case anymore. She now enters games with more of a determined mentality.

“I expect us to win,” Anyagaligbo said. “I expect us to play our hardest ball, to go out there and not beat ourselves.”

Behind these two freshmen, Stony Brook has fulfilled Anyagaligbo’s rising expectations, as the Seawolves have enjoyed one of the best season starts in program history.

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