The Colonials turned to the NEC Player of the Year, senior forward Artemis Spanou, during the biggest game of their season, the NEC Championship game. Spanou didn't disappoint; she scored 30 points and hauled-in 20 rebounds that helped power RMU to a 78 - 64 victory over St. Francis (PA) on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams struggled offensively to start the game, but were sharp on the defensive end. Going into the first media timeout, the Red Flash led 9 - 4 after a three-pointer by sophomore guard Aisha Brock, followed by a steal at halfcourt by Brock which she took the rest of the way for an easy layup.
Robert Morris turned to reserve freshman guard Rebeca Navarro to get their offense going. She swished a triple at the 12:18 mark to break a drought by both teams. As she swung her fist in the air on the way back down the court, it ignited the home crowd, and sparked a 13-7 run by the Colonials. A jumper by Spanou capped-off the run going into the under-eight media timeout; they led 17 - 16.
Navarro drilled back-to-back triples coming out of the timeout, that continued the RMU run. A Spanou triple at the 4:15 mark gave Robert Morris their first double-digit lead of the game, 28 - 16. Freshman guard, and All-NEC Rookie Selection, Anna Niki Stamolamprou joined the three-point party by connecting from behind the arc on the next Colonials' possession.
Both teams went into halftime with RMU leading 32 - 18. SFU shot 6-30 in the half (20%), and All-NEC player, senior Alli Williams, and junior guard Alexa Hayward were a combined 1-14 from the field.
Williams' credited Robert Morris' defense for their first half struggles, "You gotta give it up to Robert Morris. They played well and they played a zone well. I think we needed to have a sense of urgency more in that half, because it really killed us."
Spanou had a double-double by the half, 10 points and 11 rebounds. Navarro had 9 points on 3-6 from beyond the arc.
St. Francis (PA) did everything in their power to fight back into the game once the second half started. A jumper by junior forward Shaqeia Stokes at the 14:47 mark, cut the deficit to 10 points. But, It always seemed that Spanou had the answer; she hit a jumper two possessions later to push their lead back to 12.
The Red Flash committed their 7th team foul by the 13:17 mark, but the Colonials struggled from the line. In total, they went 17-34 from the charity-stripe in the second half, and it allowed SFU to stay in the game.
A Williams jumper at the 7:49 mark brought her team within eight, but Spanou again answered. This time she rebounded her own miss and was fouled - she converted both free throws. Williams brought St. Francis (PA) within seven on a layup with only 1:46 remaining, but the Red Flash were never able to get over the hump.
Robert Morris ended the game on a 10-3 run from that point, and won 78 - 64 as the Colonials' fans rushed the court.
Williams finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but struggled all night as she was face-guarded for a majority of the game. Hayward contributed 13 points, but was only 5-19 shooting and 3-13 from beyond the arc.
Spanou's game-high 30 points were on a very efficient 8-12 from the floor, and 12-16 from the free-throw line. Her 20 rebounds were also a game-high as were her 6 assists. Stamolamprou dropped 16 points on 6-13 shooting, and was effective at breaking the SFU press, and relentless going to the basket.
Williams, Hayward, Spanou, and Stamolamprou were all named to the NEC Tournament Team.
Last year, SFU lost to Quinnipiac, 72 - 33, for a chance to automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament. When asked to compare the two losses, "This is an all too familiar feeling, and you really have no words because you remember this feeling until the next game...the next championship game."
With only eight seconds remaining in the game, St. Francis (PA) head coach Joe Haigh subbed Williams out. As she came to the bench she was overcome with emotion. Haigh fought-back his emotions as best he could when asked to describe that moment, "You try and ignore it, it's heartbreaking, she's in tears. I am sure people are crying in the locker room downstairs. You know she's a special kid."
The RMU players were also overcome by the moment, but in a much different way. Spanou had a smile ear-to-ear throughout the post-game press conference. When senior guard Kelly Hartwell was asked how she felt, she said, "Well, I think it's the perfect ending, it's like a movie to me, it's so surreal I am at a loss for words."
Spanou added, "It's literally the perfect ending for our senior year. We wanted this since we came here as freshman, we weren't able to get it the three years we've been here. Now, we came out here and got to the final for the first time in three years and we won the championship game...we got the ring."
Colonials head coach Sal Buscaglia couldn't have been prouder of his team's effort and determination, "They did everything possible every time PA made a run, they didn't panic, they made plays, and they made special plays, and special people make special plays."
It was certainly a special night at the Sewall Center in Moon Twp., PA for the Robert Morris Colonials. They'll find out who they'll play in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow.
To checkout exclusive copyright photos from the game by Kyle Gorcey, click here.