Flash stopped short of dance
MOON TOWNSHIP – With 20 seconds left in the game, St. Francis’ Bridget Murphy pulled up for a 4-foot jumper instead of taking the wide-open layup.
The ball came up short of hitting anything.
Much like the jumper, the Red Flash fell short of their ultimate goal as they suffered a season-ending setback, 78-64, at the hands of regular-season champ Robert Morris on Sunday afternoon in the Northeast Conference title game at the Sewall Center.
“This is an all-too familiar feeling,” St. Francis junior Alexa Hayward said. “You really have no words because you remember this feeling It doesn’t get any easier. I wanted to get it for my seniors.”
Other than a 9-2 run to open the game, the Red Flash were taken out of their game by the more efficient and ultimately effective Colonial squad.
After surviving its first two NEC playoff games against Sacred Heart and Mount St. Mary’s, SFU found itself in a similar spot – down 14 early in the second half.
“I’m extremely proud of these young women,” Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. “In all the years that I’ve been coaching – almost 40 – and this is not just coach talk, this is the finest journey that I’ve been a part of as far as quality of kid, quality of student and quality of person.”
Unfortunately, for the Flash, no matter how hard they tried, RMU always had an answer for any run St. Francis tried to kickstart.
More often than not, the answer was NEC player of the year Artemis Spanou, who recorded 30 points, 20 rebounds and a team-high six assists playing her final home game.
“Robert Morris played great – they made shots. They were dialed in,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “Spanou, she played like the player of the year today. She did what we’ve seen from her for four years.”
On the flip side, Flash star Alli Williams found the going rather tough against a primarily zone defense from Robert Morris.
The senior managed to finish her SFU career with a double-double (the 53rd in a Flash uniform) by coming up with 21 points, 13 of which came from the foul line, and 13 boards.
St. Francis last had the lead, 16-14, at the 9:16 mark of the first half when senior Rebecca Keegan converted one of two from the charity stripe.
The Colonials immediately ramped up their defense from that point and forced the Flash into tough, off-balanced shots, which also kept them out of their offensive flow they are accustomed to.
Spanou, who finished the first half with 10 points and 11 rebounds, got Robert Morris started on an 18-2 run to end the half with two runners inside the lane to give the Colonials their first lead at 18-16.
“It [18-2 run] was the difference in the game,” Haigh said. “They made shots. That was a big difference between [the last] two games that we played. We struggled that last 15 minutes of the [first] half. We had nine points at 15 minutes of the [first] half. We had nine points at the 15-minute mark, and then only nine points the rest of the half. “
Rebeca Navarro came off the bench to drain back-to-back 3-pointers from the left corner to increase the margin to eight, 24-16.
“I think a lot of people think that Artemis is the only player on the team – when you stop Artemis, you stop Robert Morris,” Buscaglia. “That just isn’t the case We have other players that play their role.”
The only Red Flash points during the last 9-plus minutes came on a Murphy pull-up midrange jumper with 3:36 to go before the break to make the score, 29-18.
“We came out and St. Francis managed to have a little lead,” Spanou said. “We managed to keep our composure, keep our focus and come back to the game. We said we had to try to get stops, run and get easy layups, and that’s what happened.”
St. Francis had half of its six first-half turnovers in the final 3 minutes as it went into the locker room facing a 32-18 deficit.
“I think initially we came out good, but we [ended up] having a rough first half,” Williams said. “We only had 18 points, which is not the way we want to play. You got to give it up to Robert Morris, they played well and they played a zone well.”
The big Colonial burst, though not an automatic end-all, definitely proved to be the difference in the game.
Williams was held to just two points while her team shot just 6-for-30 from the field (20 percent). Meanwhile, the Colonials hit 45 percent of their shots and were outrebounding SFU, 26-14.
“We really struggled getting open looks,” Haigh said. “Then when we got the open looks, we didn’t make them.”
The Red Flash ended the first half with just six fouls to the Colonials’ five, but the second half was different.
After the break, Robert Morris was whistled for just 13 while St. Francis had 22 called on them.
“We had foul trouble inside, and that’s something you don’t want going against Artemis Spanou,” Hayward said. “We’re an attacking defensive team – we want to go at them, we want to hurry them, we want to make it chaotic. It’s difficult when you have to play more timid and a little bit more hesitant to go at them.”
The fouls kept the Flash players from being able to play their usual aggressive style as it seemed every call went in favor of the home team.
Despite the scoring being even, 46-46, in the final stanza, it was the inability of St. Francis to sustain any sort of run more than the four separate instances that it put together 4-0 runs.
Most of the mini-runs were ended in some sort of dramatic fashion that fired up RMU and got its raucous crowd right back into it.
Hayward, who drilled three treys, was the lone other Red Flash player in double figures with 13.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou, who left the game late in the second half with a leg injury but returned a few minutes later, tallied 16 for the Colonials.
St. Francis closed the books on a 15-17 season and graduates Williams and Keegan.
“She’s [Williams] a special kid. Rebecca Keegan is a special kid,” Haigh said. “They had a special year, and we came up short.”
Williams’ final career numbers and all-time rank read like this: 2,170 points (2nd), 1,157 rebounds (3rd), 67 blocks (9th), 349 steals (2nd), 731 made field goals (3rd), 1,638 field goals attempted (2nd), 151 made three-point field goals (tied for 5th), 473 3-pointers attempted (5th), 557 free throws made (2nd) and 812 free throws attempted (1st).
Robert Morris, improving to 21-11, will find out its NCAA Tournament fate tonight.
Williams and Hayward were named to the NEC all-tournament team along with Stamolamprou and Bryant’s Naana Ankoma-Mensa. Spanou was named the outstanding player.
ST. FRANCIS (15-17): Archer 1-4 0-0 2, Williams 4-11 13-16 21, Keegan 2-3 2-2 6, Brock 2-7 2-2 7, Hayward 5-19 0-0 13, Blaine 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor 1-1 0-0 3, Stokes 2-5 2-2 6, Allison 0-1 0-0 0, Murphy 2-9 2-2 6, Phillips 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-62 21-24 64.
ROBERT MORRIS (21-11): Spanou 8-12 12-16 30, Oursler 4-4 0-2 8, Stamolamprou 6-13 3-5 16, Brown 2-2 2-4 6, Ravelli 0-7 0-1 0, Navarro 3-6 0-0 9, Hartwell 3-6 1-5 7, Olingende 1-3 0-3 2. Totals: 27-53 18-36 78.
Halftime: Robert Morris, 32-18. 3-point field goals: St. Francis 5-24 (Hayward 3-13 Taylor 1-1, Brock 1-4, Williams 0-3, Murphy 0-2, Allison 0-1); Robert Morris 6-15 (Navarro 3-6, Spanou 2-2, Stamolamprou 1-4, Ravelli 0-3). Assists: St. Francis 12 (Hayward 5); Robert Morris 16 (Spanou 6); Rebounds: St. Francis 33 (Williams 13); Robert Morris 47 (Spanou 20). Total fouls: St. Francis 28, Robert Morris 18. Fouled out: Archer, Oursler. Technicals: none. Att: 903.
Officials: Joe Barrise, Frank Steratore, Geraldine Smith.