Moon Township, PA (AP) --
Nina Augustin hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points and top-seeded Robert Morris avenged last year's Northeast Conference tournament championship game loss with a 65-54 win over fourth-seeed Saint Francis U on Sunday, earning its sixth NCAA Tournament berth.
Isabella Posset scored 12 points and tournament MVP Nneka Ezeigbo had 11 points with 12 rebounds for the top-seeded Colonials (22-10), who lost to the Red Flash in last year's title game 66-56.
Augustin and Ester Castedo hit big 3-pointers down the stretch to send Robert Morris, which was in its sixth-straight championship game, to the NCAAs for the second time in three years.
“I’ve never been prouder,” said RMU head coach Charlie Buscaglia. “We’re a young team – 70 percent of this team is freshmen and sophomores – and we definitely didn’t play like it today. I give a lot of credit to Saint Francis, they played extremely hard and (SFU interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl) did an amazing job taking over their team – they gave us everything we could handle.”
The Red Flash (16-17), seeded fourth, pulled within 53-51 with 4:21 to play on a Karson Swogger jumper that capped a 9-0 run. Following a Robert Morris turnover, Saint Francis pounded the boards and had four chances to tie or take the lead on the next possession but missed four inside shots. At the other end, Possett passed it out to Nina Augustin on the right wing and she buried a 3-pointer.
Saint Francis had two more misses and two turnovers on the next three possessions before Posset dribbled the shot clock down, drove to the right baseline and found Castedo in the right corner for the back-breaking 3-pointer.
Robert Morris struggled to put the game away, going 4 of 13 from the field and 6 of 10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Saint Francis was just 5 of 18 and missed 3 of 4 free throws in the last minute. Ezeigbo, the NEC defensive player of the year, finished 4 of 17 from the field and 3 of 9 from the foul line.
“The most proud I am about this young team is that when the moments got tough, we responded,” said Buscaglia. “Even when (SFU) made that big run and their energy was high, I had 100 percent faith that this team would pull through and do what we had to do to overcome the run that they made.”
Jess Kovatch, the NEC Player of the Year, led Saint Francis with 18 points. Courtney Zezza added 12 points.
"I give Charlie (Buscaglia) and Robert Morris credit," SFU interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl said. "They played a tough physical game as they normally do and they played great half court defensive and were very disciplined. Having twenty turnovers really hurt us. They might not have gotten layups right out of it, but it gave them more possessions. Hats off to Robert Morris for winning the championship. I know they will represent our conference really well going into the NCAA Tournament."
Robert Morris, which has won 32 straight home games against conference opponents, had the league's stingiest defense by holding teams to 54.9 points and 37.1 percent shooting. Saint Francis shot 33.3 percent, making just 4 of 19 from distance, and had 20 turnovers that led to 22 points. The Colonials were the only team to beat the Red Flash twice this year, including 66-53 on the same court in the regular-season finale.
This marked the first NEC rematch since 1996 when the Red Flash and Mount St. Mary's met for the third-straight time.
Nneka Ezeigbo (RMU) - MVP
Nina Augustin (RMU)
Jess Kovatch (SFU)
Michaela Harrison (MSM)
Candice Leatherwood (SHU)