Robert Morris women win NEC title, punch ticket to NCAA Tournament
FAIRFIELD, Conn. — It was late in the third quarter when Robert Morris women's basketball coach Sal Buscaglia finally removed his jacket. Things were getting tight on the court, but apparently the veteran mentor merely was getting ready for a farewell dance.
Ashley Ravelli scored a game-high 14 points, including a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left, and the Colonials dodged a game-tying 3-pointer in the waning seconds on the way to a 56-51 win over Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference championship game Sunday at Pitt Center.
The win means Buscaglia will be headed to the Big Dance for the fourth time. It also will be his last. He previously announced he would retire after the season.
“It's special, that's for sure,” Buscaglia said. “But we knew it was possible. This team has really come together. We had some hiccups, but we're a team, and we really believed this could happen.”
Robert Morris showed its mettle from the start.
Top-seeded Sacred Heart entered the contest winners of 11 straight and 17 of the its last 18 games, but the Pioneers (20-12) never led. Robert Morris (20-12) led 31-27 at the half and built as much as a 40-31 advantage in the third quarter. The lead was just 52-50 with 57 seconds left when Sacred Heart's Adaysha Williams was fouled.
Williams hit only one free throw, and Ravelli was fouled on the ensuing possession. The senior guard hit both free throws, giving the Colonials a 54-51 lead with 12.6 seconds left.
With time winding down, Sacred Heart looked to get the ball to NEC Player of the Year Hannah Kimmel (who had 10 points in the first quarter but finished with just 13), but she was shut off. Kimmel tossed a pass into the corner where Williams was waiting, but her 3-pointer was well short.
“I didn't want to draw up a 3-point play because there was so much time, but we didn't execute it well,” Sacred Heart coach Jessica Mannetti said.
Janee Brown put the game away with two more free throws.
“They're a seasoned team,” Mannetti said. “They've been to the finals three straight years.”
The Colonials learn where they're headed in the NCAA Tournament at 7 p.m. Monday when the field is revealed on ESPN.
“This team is capable of anything,” Buscaglia said.
Bill Cloutier is a freelance writer.