Columbia women fall to Stony Brook in season opener

Despite overcoming a 17-point deficit in the third quarter, the Columbia women went down in defeat in Monday night’s seasoner opener against Stony Brook, 85-73, at the Island Federal Credit Union.

Thanks to the graduation of eight players, including starters Kaitlyn Davis, Jaida Patrick and Hannah Pratt, the 2022-23 Ivy League co-champions and WNIT finalists entered the evening with more uncertainty than they had the last several years.

The new starters, Cecelia Collins, Susie Rafiu and Noa Comesaña, came out of the gate strong, combining for 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting as the Lions (0-1) went up 21-18. Unfortunately for the visitors, three straight triples from Stony Brook (1-0) over the last two minutes gave the hosts a 27-21 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

After forcing Rafiu and sixth-woman Paige Lauder to the bench with two and three fouls, respectively, the bigger and more experienced Seawolves opened up a 46-33 lead with 30 seconds left in the half. An Abbey Hsu layup with seven seconds remaining made it an 11-point game at intermission.

With Lauder picking up her fourth foul and Stony Brook making it 52-35 two minutes into the third quarter, the game looked to be getting out of hand for Columbia. However, the Lions would not go down without a fight.

The Light Blue responded with an 18-2 run over the next three and a half minutes to make it a one-point game. Over that time, Hsu notched seven points, including the 286th three-pointer of her career, and rookie guard Riley Weiss, a Long Island native playing in front of a number of family members, hit her first two triples.

“Defensively, that’s how we got back into the game,” coach Megan Griffith told Ivy Hoops Online after the game. “We got stops, we were stringing stops together and we were also making plays.”

Junior guard Kitty Henderson scored four straight points to give Columbia its first lead since the first quarter, 61-59, but Stony Brook’s Zaida Gonzalez hit a driving layup at the buzzer to tie the game.

While the Lions have been able to use their depth and experience over the last two years to pull away in the fourth quarter, things were different on Monday night.

After Comesaña hit the first triple of her career to put Columbia up 64-63, the Seawolves went on a 13-0 run over a four-minute stretch to effectively end the game before the final media timeout.

The Lions hit 53% (20-for-38) from inside the arc and 27% (9-33) from downtown for the evening, including a 43% (3-for-7) two-point and 15% (2-for-13) effort in the final frame. Stony Brook, which finished with 51% (19-for-37) from two and 37% (10-for-27) from three on the night, shot 54% (7-for-13) from two and 50% (3-for-6) from three over the last 10 minutes.

Aside from the fourth-quarter shooting, Stony Brook made their biggest gains on the boards (45-35), at the free throw line (17-for-21 versus 6-for-9) and in points off turnovers (28-18).

“Stony Brook I thought did a great job tonight. They were poised, controlled,” Griffith said. “It’s a testament to their preparation leading up to this.”

Hsu led all players with 23 points and 12 rebounds, which was her third career double-double. The senior from Parkland, Fla., who was recently named to the Naismith Award Player of the Year Watch List, was more aggressive on offense and defense than previous seasons. The one blemish on her outstanding evening was a 1-for-13 effort from beyond the arc, which left her one made three away from tying Katie Benzan’s Ivy League record.

“I’m not worried about that (three-point shooting),” Griffith said. “That kid is such a great shooter. She shoots herself in and out of games, and I thought she got some good looks. Honestly, it’s just about her sticking to her plan but also realizing that she’s going to have to score in different ways, which I think she showcased tonight. Defensively, she had 12 rebounds tonight, which is huge.”

Weiss, playing in her first collegiate game, had 14 points with four made three-pointers. Collins, playing her first game for Columbia after transferring from Bucknell, finished with 11 points, a game-high five assists and four assists. The junior guard appeared to injure her ankle midway through the final frame, but Griffith stated that it was “just a scare” and she’ll be fine.

“It’s great to see them (Weiss and Collins) being aggressive from the jump. Cece (Collins) coming out hitting those two threes, getting to the rack, getting fouled a couple of times,” the coach complemented her new players. “I love that she’s (Weiss) coming in and trying to make her presence known right away, especially on the offensive end.”

The Lions have a packed November schedule, featuring games against No. 19 Duke, two SEC teams, two Big East programs and the top three programs in the CAA (including No. 2 Stony Brook), but the team is taking things one game at a time.

As they get ready for the home opener against Seton Hall on Friday, Griffith has a clear message for her new squad.

“Think about the game tonight, but tomorrow is a new day. We’ve got to make sure we learn from the past and get ready to execute going forward.”