Robert Morris could only do so much to overcome a team that no one else has been able to stop this postseason.
Despite back-to-back Northeast Conference championships on the line as well as their fourth in nine years, the Colonials (17-15) couldn’t manage to detour St. Francis (N.Y.)’s path to its first-ever title, losing 77-62 Sunday at the Sewall Center.
As just the No. 5 seed, St. Francis (15-18) upset the No. 2 seed away in the penultimate game of the regular season and then the No. 4 seed, No. 1 seed and No.3 seed Robert Morris all on the road in the tournament to capture its unlikely first bid to the NCAA tournament. And for a team laden with seniors, it was a long time coming.
“I’ve always loved the underdog story,” Terriers senior forward Sarah Benedetti said. “And I think this is a great definition of a pure underdog. And it just feels awesome.”
Benedetti scored a game-high 29 points, going 5-for-6 on 3-pointers, 9-for-16 from the field and 6-for-7 on free throws. Overall, the team was unbeatable at the 3-point line, shooting 59 percent overall, including 78 percent in the second half alone, to build up an 18-point lead at one point in the second half.
“She shot the ball really well, and she was shooting way out of the 3-point line,” Colonials junior guard Ashley Ravelli said. “We should have focused a little bit more on her, for sure.”
Ravelli led her team with 17 points, but a limited leading scorer Anna Niki Stamolamprou curbed what Robert Morris could accomplish.
The sophomore guard landed wrong coming down from a shot early in the second half. And while she eventually returned to the game with her left knee taped up and having tried two different braces to stabilize her leg, her performance wasn’t up to par with just 12 points when she averages more than 15.
The adversity wasn’t something Robert Morris could brush off.
“That was one of the worst things that could happen to us because she’s the girl that we go to,” coach Sal Buscaglia said. “When she went down, a lot of the focus was looking at her … [instead of] who’s on the court.”
Buscaglia said doctors examined Stamolamprou after the game, and they hoped it was just a sprained meniscus.
Experience played a big part in St. Francis’ win, but Robert Morris has much to look toward in the future with just one senior and two juniors on the roster. Ravelli said she didn’t cry after the hard loss because she was too busy thinking about next season.
“I’m so very proud of the kids on our team to go this far … to the championship game and just fall short to a team that was red-hot,” Buscaglia said. “We have an opportunity with all these young kids on the team to raise the trophy next year, and certainly we’ll be there. I’m very confident in that.”