RMU women's basketball team looks secure 2nd straight NEC title
It was a grim scene at Sewall Center after the Robert Morris women's basketball team's loss to last-place Wagner in the regular-season finale.
A win would have secured the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament for the Colonials. Instead, they dropped to the third seed, assured of hosting one game but probably no more in the conference tournament.
About two weeks later, the Colonials will defend their NEC title, hosting fifth-seeded St. Francis Brooklyn at 1 p.m. Sunday at Sewall Center.
“As it turned out, (the loss to Wagner) might have been a good thing for us because I think it might have woken us up a little bit, that we're capable of losing no matter who we play and where,” coach Sal Buscaglia said. “If you don't come out with intensity each and every game, that's going to happen. In a way it could have been a wake-up call at just the right time.”
This marks the first time a No. 1 seed has not played in the NEC title game and the first time a No. 5 seed has reached the final since 2010, when No. 5 St. Francis (Pa.) defeated No. 2 Long Island.
It is the Terriers' first appearance in the championship game. In addition to upsetting top-seeded Central Connecticut State in double overtime, they also defeated Sacred Heart on the road in the quarterfinals.
Those wins followed end-of-season victories at Bryant and rival LIU Brooklyn.
“Momentum has built for us, and the kids are playing at their highest level of the year, which now is the time you want to do it,” Terriers coach John Thurston said. “Undoubtedly when you've beaten three of the top four teams in the league on the road, it's got to make you feel pretty good.”
The Colonials are feeling good about themselves after defeating No. 2 seed Bryant on the road Wednesday.
They also defeated St. Francis Brooklyn both times they played this season. Both games were close, with Robert Morris winning, 67-64, at home Jan. 17 and 69-64 on Jan. 24 in New York.
“They play four guards and a post, so they really spread you out, and they're very patient on offense,” Buscaglia said. “They're not going to take a lot of bad shots. We know that, offensively they're strong, because of the style, of playing with more patience than most teams.”
Thurston said the Colonials are the best one-through-eight team in the league and that both teams are strong defensively. Robert Morris also holds a size advantage.
Thurston said he believes it will come down to which team makes its open shots.
“You're eventually going to get them. Who's going to make them?” he said. “Whoever has the hot hand on Sunday ends up winning the game.”
St. Francis never has been to the NCAA Tournament in the 76-year history of the school.
The men's team had a chance to make it earlier this week, but Robert Morris ended that dream in New York.
Now it's the women's turn. The Colonials are looking for their second consecutive NEC Tournament title and fourth NCAA Tournament trip since 2007.
Buscaglia said he got the sense before the team's Bryant game that his players had moved past the Wagner loss and believed they were capable of winning.
“Very few of our players were on the court last year in pressure situations,” he said, “but I really, really felt if we could just focus and mature quickly, I was confident we were going to do well.”