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SWEET REVENGE: St. Francis women beat Robert Morris, make 1st NCAA Tournament

March 15, 2015 Associated Press
St. Francis players pose with the trophy after winning the Northeast Conference championship NCAA college basketball game against Robert Morris on Sunday, in Moon Township, Pa. St. Francis won 77-62. AP Photo/Don Wright
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MOON, Pa.— The St. Francis Brooklyn women’s basketball team completed its improbable run to the NCAA Tournament by upsetting host Robert Morris 77-62 to win the Northeast Conference on Sunday.

It is the first title in program history for St. Francis (15-18), which advance to its first NCAAs. This victory came less than a week after the men’s basketball team lost to Robert Morris in the finals of the NEC tournament. The men’s program is one of five schools that have been part of Division I basketball since the NCAA Tournament started in 1948.

St. Francis, Brooklyn is the first team to win the tournament championship by way of three road victories, and just the second team to claim the title despite having a losing overall record. They are the 10th team to enter the NCAAs with a losing record.

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Sarah Benedetti led the Terriers with 29 points, including five 3-pointers. Jaymee Veney and Eilidh Simpson added 14 points each.

The fifth-seeded Terriers defeated No. 4 seed Sacred Heart then top-seeded Central Connecticut in double-overtime of the semifinal game before finishing off No. 3 seed Robert Morris.

“I’ve always loved the underdog story and I think this is the definition of a pure underdog,” Benedetti said. “It just feels awesome.”

Junior Ashley Ravelli led the Colonials with 17 points. Sophomore point guard Anna-Niki Stamalamprou had 12 points but only three in the second half after injuring her left knee.

Robert Morris (17-15) was vying for its second consecutive tournament championship and fourth since 2007. The Colonials, who defeated the Terriers in both meetings this year, are now 15-2 all-time in NEC Tournament home games.

Trailing 32-29 at halftime, the Colonials tied it on a free throw from Mikalah Mulrain, 38-38, with 14:47 to go. After Simpson hit a pair of shots from the line to regain the lead for the Terriers, Ravelli hit a jump shot to make it 40-40.

From that point on, the Terriers dominated.

Benedetti made a pair of buckets, including one or her five from beyond the arc, and Veney made a jump shot and with 12:32 to go, St. Francis held a 47-40 lead. Janee Brown made a free throw to cut the lead to six, but the Colonials would get no closer.

With just under seven minutes remaining the Terriers lead, 62-44. A pair of 3-pointers from Stamalamprou and Ravelli helped the Colonials to chip away at the lead and Ravelli hit a jump shot to make it 64-54 with 4:31 left, but Simpson made a 3-point shot and the Terriers would keep their double-figure lead the rest of the game.

“Robert Morris is an amazing team and they have great leaders in Anna-Niki and Ashley Ravelli,” Veney said. “They’re always in it. For us to win like this on the road against some pretty good players is phenomenal.”

Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia felt that despite the Terriers’ lack of experience in the postseason, having four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup helped when the game was at its most critical moments.

“They’re a senior-laden team and the one fear I had was that we’re a young team,” said Buscaglia, who became the all-time NEC Tournament wins leader (17) when the Colonials defeated No. 2 seed Bryant on the road in the semifinals. “We only have one junior who starts. I’m so very proud of the kids on our team to go this far with one junior who plays a lot of minutes and the rest freshmen and sophomores. To get to the championship game and fall just short to a team that was red-hot and playing at their best level makes me very proud.”

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