Fairfield, Conn.—The Sacred Heart women's basketball team clinched their fourth Northeast Conference regular season title with a 70-66 overtime win over the Robert Morris Colonials Monday night in the regular season finale. Rookie Gabrielle Washington had the hot hand, totaling 23 points drilling a three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Pioneers will be the #1 seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament with home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Colonials started the game 0-for-5 before knocking down four shots in a row. Artemis Spanou sparked the run when she managed to lay one in to put Robert Morris on the board three and a half minutes into the game. Spanou would score her teams first nine points and RMU built a 16-8 lead with 11 minutes on the clock.
Callan Taylor (Overland Park, Kan.) and Ericka Norman (Chino Hills, Calif.) hit back-to-back-to-back jumpers to put a halt to the Colonials' run and SHU climbed back within 16-15 to force Robert Morris to use a timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Sacred Heart, in a pressure defense, forced two consecutive turnovers and Washington and Morgan Merriman (Seattle, Wa.) converted both into points, adding four from the charity stripe.
The Pioneers could not shut down Spanou, who was a perfect from the field until there was just 3:17 left in the half. After blanking on their first five shots, the Colonials posted a 46.2 shooting percentage in the half. With 33 seconds left before the halftime horn, sophomore Blair Koniszewski (Vienna, Va.) knocked down a trey from the top of the key to give the Pioneers a 32-30 lead. Sacred Heart outscored Robert Morris 10-3 in the last four minutes of the half to go into the locker room with a 32-31 lead.
Sacred Heart burst out of halftime and ran their lead to 41-34, but the Colonials chipped away at the Pioneers' lead with a 6-0 spurt, forcing SHU to take a timeout at 11:14. Washington hit a jumper and a three out of the time out, putting a quick five points on the board and pushing the lead to 48-43.
A Taylor jumper had the SHU lead back to seven, 52-45, with 5:53 left but the Colonials weren't done. Spanou converted a put back and a three from Josette Campbell quickly swung the game with RMU down 52-50 with 4:54 left. Senior Alexis Campbell (Asburn, VA) beat a winding down shot clock and pushed the lead to 54-50. Campbell's jumper at 4:21 was the last Pioneer points until the Washington three at the buzzer.
Campbell converted a lay-up off a steal and with just 1:49 left on the clock, April Williams was left unguarded to hit a trey, giving Robert Morris a 55-54 lead. Williams hit a pair of free throws with six seconds left on the clock to put the Colonials up 47-54.
Inbounding the ball with just five seconds left on the clock, Merriman found Washington who attempted a three to tie. When the ball hit the rim, the rookie got her own rebound, took two steps back and launched another from the right corner at the horn, netting the triple and sending the game into overtime.
Washington laid one in halfway through overtime for the first points of the period, but Mary Durojaye picked up a layup of her own to keep the score even. With SHU up 61-59, Merriman help swing the game converting on a three-point play opportunity. Spanou drilled a three but the Pioneers did the job at the charity stripe to secure the win.
Of the 13 points the Pioneers picked up, nine were from the charity stripe. Taylor knocked down five of her six opportunities, while Merriman was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line in overtime.
Outscoring the Colonials 13-9 in the overtime, the Pioneers picked up the 70-66 victory, and win the regular season championship with a 15-3 NEC record. Taylor finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while Merriman came off the bench for 13 points and six caroms.
Spanou finished with a game-high 24 points in the loss.
On Saturday, Sacred Heart will host No. 8 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the 2011-12 Northeast Conference Championship Tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 pm.