By WILL GRAVES
MOON TOWNSHIP —
Artemis Spanou scored 30 points to go with 20 rebounds and six assists as Robert Morris clinched its first NCAA appearance in six years with a 78-64 win over St. Francis in the Northeastern Conference championship game on Sunday.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou added 16 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Colonials (21-11), who kept Red Flash star Alli Williams in check during the first half then turned aside several St. Francis runs down the stretch.
Williams finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but only two of them came in the first half as top-seeded Robert Morris built a 14-point lead. The Red Flash (15-17) never drew closer than seven and struggled to duplicate the high-octane offense that carried the third-seed to the finals.
The Red Flash’s 64 points were their second-lowest of the season and their lowest against a conference opponent.
St. Francis had surged into the finals with a 132-124 double-overtime win over Sacred Heart and a 68-63 upset of Mount St. Mary’s in the semifinals.
The run ended under an array of missed shots and defensive breakdowns. The Red Flash shot just 19 of 62 (31 percent) from the field and were outscored in the paint 36-14, as Spanou and her teammates had their way inside.
The two-time NEC Player of the Year was everywhere. The senior knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, came up with two steals and seemed to be around the ball after every St. Francis missed shot. When the Red Flash tried to double-team her, she found an open teammate, usually right underneath the hoop.
Spanou averaged 25.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game during the tournament on her way to MVP honors.
Still, the jitters that doomed the Robert Morris men’s team in a home loss to Mount St. Mary’s in conference finals last week made a brief reappearance with the women.
St. Francis raced to a quick 9-2 lead before the Colonials settled down to take control. Navarro and Spanou keyed a 17-2 surge as the Red Flash struggled to get anything going. Williams missed all five of her field goal attempts and Robert Morris used the backboard to slow the game down, using seven offensive rebounds to extend possessions then taking advantage of the second – and sometimes third – chances.
The result was a 32-18 halftime lead for the Colonials as St. Francis shot just 6 of 30 (20 percent) from the field.
The Red Flash managed to speed things up a bit in the second half but never put Robert Morris in any real danger.
Williams shot just 4 of 11 from the field and missed all three of her 3-point attempts. Though she went 13 of 16 at the line, she wasn’t the force that poured in 40 points or more four times this year, including consecutive 47-point performances earlier this month.
Williams’ layup drew St. Francis within 68-61 with 1:49 to play but Spanou hit a streaking Kelly Hartwell for a layup.
Hartwell was fouled on the play and made the free throw (hardly a given on a day Robert Morris went just 18 of 36 at the stripe) and the final minute turned into a celebration with students storming the court after the final buzzer sounded.