Hayward shines for Red Flash women

LORETTO – Robert Morris University is roughly 20 miles from Alexa Hayward’s hometown of Beaver Falls.

Many of her friends from home attend school there and jokingly give her a rough time for choosing to play basketball at St. Francis, especially since the Colonials beat the Red Flash three times last season.

Monday night at DeGol Arena, Hayward finally got her first win against Robert Morris as she scored a career-high 28 points in St. Francis’ 72-63 Northeast Conference victory.

“[Robert Morris] is so close to my house,” Hayward said. “I always hear about RMU, and I take a lot of [heat] from my friends that go there. It’s nice taking it to them today and getting the win.”

“This being a rivalry game and losing three times against them last year – the intensity of this game is like a playoff game all of the time,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “It’s huge to beat them. We were not happy getting beat up by them and losing to them three times last year. It’s a very, very good win.”

Hayward, who averages 7.5 points per game, did most of her damage from behind the arc.

The sophomore was 7-for-14 from long range, making five in the first half alone.

She was one 3-pointer shy of tying the single-game school record for 3-pointers made.

“I was due,” she said. “It’s expected, but I’m glad I could finally come through today. My legs felt good. I was running well. My teammates were looking for me, and it just happened to go in for me today.”

“She kept us in the game in the first half with her shooting,” Haigh said of Hayward. “The great thing about her is that she plays so hard, offensively and defensively. It was great to see her playing more freely. I think it makes us a better team. Hopefully she’ll realize that she can do this all of the time.”

Even with Hayward’s 15 first-half points, St. Francis (11-8, 6-2 NEC) still found itself down by one at halftime.

Part of that problem was due to Robert Morris’ defense holding Alli Williams to zero points in the first 20 minutes.

Williams even went an additional 9:40 in the second half before she found nylon.

“We shut down Alli Williams for the first half, but fatigue just set in,” Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. “We just didn’t have the same defensive intensity as we did in the first half.”

Williams scored 21 points, including 10 of the Red Flash’s final 14, in the last 10:40 of the game and added 11 rebounds for her eighth straight double-double and 11th in 12 games.

She finished 6-for-12 from the floor after missing her first six shots and was 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.

“The things she does from an efficiency standpoint is really crazy,” Haigh said of Williams. “She’s really doing a good job.”

Even Williams knew she was struggling.

“When you go [almost 30 minutes] without scoring, my confidence was kind of down,” Williams said. “I happened to get a steal and a pull-up and I hit it, I felt like I was alright then.

“Shots eventually came. As long as my teammates were scoring, it didn’t really matter to me. I just tried to focus on rebounding and doing something else.”

Robert Morris (4-15, 3-5) hung around even after the Red Flash built a pair of five-point leads late in the second half.

But St. Francis’ defensive pressure and run-and-gun offense wore out the Colonials.

“That’s our game plan every game,” Haigh said. “We were disappointed with the pace of the game overall. We got the pace where we wanted it in the second half. I was happy with the second half. The pressure starting wearing them down. The team played great down the stretch.”

“That’s a big factor,” Buscaglia said. “I would have done the same thing – press, run, get us fatigued. I think fatigue was evident.”

The Red Flash head to Brooklyn for a pair of games next weekend on a two-game winning streak, a welcome sign after last week’s double-digit losses.

They play at St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday before visiting LIU Brooklyn on Feb. 4.

“It was important to win because of the sour taste that was in everybody’s mouth after last weekend,” Haigh said. “It’s just really depressing to have performances like that, so it’s really good for our team to bounce back and respond this way.

“Now we’re excited to go to Brooklyn. We love going on that road trip. I think we’ll have a lot of energy going out there.”

Game notes: Kia Gibbs sat out Monday’s game with a sprained toe. She suffered the injury of the first half of St. Francis’ win over Wagner on Saturday. … Rebecca Keegan earned her first start of the season for the Red Flash. … St. Francis had a season-low 13 turnovers. … St. Francis as a team had 35 3-point attempts, tying the school record. The Flash made 13, which was one short of the school record. … Artemis Spanou picked up her 14th consecutive double-double with 21 points and 20 rebounds for the Colonials, while Anna Gailite had 12 points and Kelly Hartwell added 11.

ROBERT MORRIS (4-15, 3-5): Spanou 9-18 3-6 21, Gailite 5-9 2-2 12, Mataly 3-7 0-0 9, Ravelli 3-12 0-0 8, Jackson 0-4 0-0 0, Emberg 0-0 2-2 2, Kavasila 0-2 0-0 0, Hartwell 4-8 3-6 11. Totals 24-60 10-16 63.

ST. FRANCIS (11-8, 6-2): Fleming 1-7 2-4 4, Williams 6-12 6-7 21, Keegan 2-4 1-2 5, Lilley 1-7 1-2 4, Hayward 9-17 3-5 28, Taylor 2-6 2-2 7, Sparks 0-4 0-0 0, Perkins 0-5 0-0 0, Doogan 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 22-64 15-22 72.

Halftime-Robert Morris 32-31. 3-point goals-Robert Morris 5-14 (Mataly 3-4, Ravelli 2-7, Spanou 0-1, Jackson 0-2), St. Francis 13-35 (Hayward 7-14, Williams 3-6, Doogan 1-2, Lilley 1-5, Taylor 1-5, Sparks 0-1, Perkins 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Robert Morris 42 (Spanou 20), St. Francis 42 (Williams 11). Assists-Robert Morris 15 (Ravelli 3), St. Francis 19 (Lilley 8). Total fouls-Robert Morris 19, St. Francis 16. A-627.