LORETTO - File this one in the "Could have, would have, should have" category.
Needing but a victory to solidify its position in the Northeast Conference women's basketball standings, St. Francis dropped a 69-66 decision LIU Brooklyn before a largely pink-clad crowd of 831 at DeGol Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Red Flash players wore pink-trimmed black uniforms, which were auctioned off after the game. The proceeds benefitted the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Foundation.
A wide-open Cleandra Roberts cashed in a layin to give the Blackbirds a 67-66 lead with 32 seconds to go. She led all scorers with 23 points.
"We had a defensive breakdown on something and a miscommunication on a back screen off a play that we know they like to run," Red Flash coach Joe Haigh said. "There are so many things that are magnified in the last minute-and-a-half of the game."
St. Francis (10-14, 8-5 NEC) would have benefitted from a victory against the Blackbirds. But after assuming an early six-point lead, the Red Flash failed to shake off their opponent.
It's a pattern that junior guard Alexa Hayward said St. Francis must reverse.
"One thing that we've struggled with the whole year is maintaining the lead," Hayward said. "Once we get out on somebody we need to pound them into the ground, make sure the game is over before it's really over."
Coming off a disheartening 90-76 loss Monday at St. Francis Brooklyn, this setback was no help.
"It's a bad loss for us," Haigh said. "It's not a game that we could afford to lose.
"We're really upset with ourselves," said senior Alli Williams. "I thought we learned on Monday to bounce back from a loss. But we're really disappointed in ourselves and wish we could go back and change one or two plays."
Hayward's 3-pointer with 3:13 gone put St. Francis ahead, 8-2. LIU Brooklyn used its 8-0 edge in free throws made in the first half, however, to grab a 36-34 halftime lead.
The Blackbirds made 8 of 12 at the line while the Red Flash were awarded zero free throws in the opening 20 minutes.
"We didn't play our game. We weren't aggressive enough. We didn't get as many shots as we needed to," Haigh said.
Shaqeia Stokes' layin with 10:27 left in the second half put the Red Flash on top again by six, 51-45.
"We played harder in the second half. But we didn't play hard enough to pull away," Haigh said.
The Blackbirds refused to go away, however. LIU Brooklyn recaputured the lead, 64-63, on Shanovia Dove's layin with 4:15 to play.
"Once they start going on a run we panic a little bit," Hayward said. "I think we just need to keep our compusure. It's something we can work on."
Williams admitted she should have taken charge.
"They played me pretty good on 'D.' Cleandra Roberts, I thought, was a good defender," she said. "But I probably should have demanded the ball more and scored."
After a free throw by Alesha Myers, Stokes hit another layin to tie the score at 65 with 3:16 left.
Freshman Bridget Murphy then hit one of two free throws with 2:18 for a 66-65 St. Francis lead.
The Red Flash's inability to take command of the game manifested itself in the final minute, however.
At one point, LIU Brooklyn lured the Red Flash to the right side of the key. Roberts, meanwhile, went back door, took a feed from Letava Whippy and then converted the winning bucket.
"We hadn't run that play all game," Roberts said. "So Coach ran that because they weren't expecting it. Sophie [Bashin] set a perfect screen and Letava threw a perfect pass. I was so wide open I couldn't miss it."
"We were really confused on 'D,' " Williams said. "[We were] in transition and it was just a stupid error."
Bashin, who contributed 19 points, hit two free throws with 13 seconds left. St. Francis, consequently, needed a 3-pointer to tie the score and force overtime. Hayward missed the 3 from the top of the circle and Whippy got the rebound as time expired.
"Any win on the road is huge, especially if it's against a really good team," LIU Brooklyn coach Gail Streigler said.
LIU Brooklyn (7-17, 5-8) never led by more than five points as the teams attempted to outrace each other in an up-tempo game.
"Both of us are used to playing that tempo," Streigler said, "but I'm not sure either one of us are used to being pressed and pressing for 40 minutes."
Williams and Hayward scored 14 points and came up with three steals each to lead the Red Flash. Williams added 12 rebounds. Murphy handed out six assists.
Fanny Cavallo led LIU Brooklyn with 13 rebounds while adding 14 points.
LIU BROOKLYN (7-17, 5-8): Cavallo 6-8 2-2 14, Roberts 9-19 5-6 23, Robinson 0-2 0-0 0, Whippy 0-6 3-6 3, Myers 2-7 1-2 6, Tomlinson 0-0 0-0 0, Dove 1-2 0-0 2, Bhasin 5-14 6-6 19, Sullivan 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 1-1 0-0 2, Presley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-59 (.407) 17-22 (.773) 69.
ST. FRANCIS (10-14, 8-5): Williams 6-13 0-0 14, Keegan 2-6 0-0 4, Stokes 5-5 1-2 11, Brock 3-10 2-2 9, Hayward 4-15 2-2 14, Blaine 5-10 0-0 10, Taylor 0-1 0-0 0, Murphy 1-8 1-2 4, Archer 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-70 (.371) 6-8 (.750) 66.
Halftime: LIU Brooklyn, 36-34. 3-point field goals: LIU Brooklyn 4-11 (Cavallo 2-2, Roberts 5-6, Whippy 3-6, Myers 1-2, Bhasin 6-6), St. Francis 8-23 (Williams 2-5, Brock 1-5, Hayward 4-11, Taylor 0-1, Murphy 1-1). Rebounds: LIU Brooklyn 48 (Cavallo 13, Roberts 11), St. Francis 35 (Williams 12). Assists: LIU Brooklyn 16 (Robinson 9), St. Francis 18 (Murphy 6). Steals: LIU Brooklyn 13 (Roberts 4), St. Francis 8 (Williams 3, Hayward 3). Turnovers: LIU Brooklyn 27, St. Francis 20. Total fouls: LIU Brooklyn 12, St. Francis 19. Fouled out: None. Technicals: None. Officials: Theresa Funk, Eric Stakem, Randy Mudge. A-831.