Robert Morris women fall in NEC title game, lose out on NCAA tourney bid
The Robert Morris women's basketball team watched its hopes for a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament vanish Sunday.
St. Francis Brooklyn took over in the second half at Sewall Center and captured its first Northeast Conference Tournament championship, 77-62, completing an improbable postseason run. The fifth-seeded Terriers defeated the first, third and fourth seeds — all on the road. They are the first team to claim the NEC title by winning three road games and the second team to win despite owning a losing record (15-18).
“They deserve it,” Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. “All credit goes to them and coach (John) Thurston. They went through the top seeds on the road. How could you not give them credit?”
The third-seeded Colonials (17-15), who never led during the second half, fell to 15-2 in NEC Tournament home games.
Junior Ashley Ravelli led Robert Morris with 17 points. Sophomore point guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou had 12 points but just three in the second half after injuring her left knee with 17 minutes remaining.
She continued to play, trying two different braces to stabilize the knee, but clearly was not 100 percent.
Senior Sarah Benedetti led the Terriers with 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Jaymee Veney and Eilidh Simpson each had 14 points, and Leah Fechko added 13.
Despite the Terriers never having advanced past the semifinals, Buscaglia said he believed their experience with four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup helped when the game was on the line.
Robert Morris led early but trailed 32-29 at halftime. The Colonials tied it at 38-38 on a free throw by Mikalah Mulrain with 14:47 left and again at 40-40 after a Ravelli jump shot.
The Terriers dominated the rest of the way.
The Terriers were one of three current NEC teams never to have won the tournament title, joining Bryant and Central Connecticut State.
“Robert Morris played a great game. The first half was back and forth, and it was very close,” Simpson said. “In the second half, we were able to pull away. Sarah hit some big shots, and it was an unbelievable feeling coming down the stretch knowing we were going to win.”
The Colonials were hoping to join their men's team in qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. In a twist, the men defeated St. Francis Brooklyn on the road to win the conference's automatic bid.
“I think experience played a big role in the second half,” Ravelli said. “We're a young team. I felt like we played with a lot of intensity and energy, but they didn't back down at all.”