Robert Morris women rally to reach NEC tournament semifinals

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In the locker room at halftime, before the coaches came in to make their adjustments, Robert Morris senior forward Artemis Spanou had a simple message for her team, which trailed by seven in its Northeast Conference tournament quarterfinal matchup against Long Island at Sewall Center.

"I'm not ready to go home yet," Spanou recalled saying. "I'm not ready to quit and give up right now."

Spanou backed up her words in the second half, and her teammates answered back as Robert Morris stormed back to beat the Blackbirds, 65-49, and move one step closer to an NCAA tournament bid.

The ColonialsThe Colonials (19-11) outscored Long Island (9-21), 41-18, in a dominating second-half performance to pull away with the win. Spanou finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, her 26th double-double of the season.

Beyond the numbers, though, Spanou's most valuable asset this season might have been the emotion she brought out when her team desperately needed it.

"You have to have leaders, and we have a leader in Artie," Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. "That was our goal this year. I knew that she was going to score points for us, get rebounds for us and all the things that you know are on the stat sheet. One of the biggest things we felt we had to improve on with Artie was her leadership."

That newfound trait manifested itself after a first half in which the Colonials were flummoxed by some defensive wrinkles thrown in by the Blackbirds. Usually a full-court press team, Long Island instead went primarily with a triangle-and-two hybrid defense, which included double-teaming Spanou when she got the ball down low.

Spanou had 11 points and just five rebounds at the break, and no other Colonial had more than five points as they trailed, 31-24.

"It was overwhelming," Spanou said. "They did different stuff than they had the last two games. I didn't get some calls down there near the basket. I had to stay with the same focus. This team needs me to be calm, needs me to be in the game."

Coaching a team that starts three freshmen, Buscaglia was concerned that the nerves of their first playoff game might have gotten to them.

"I was a little concerned about that, the magnitude of the game," Buscaglia said.

Freshman guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou, who finished with 14 points, agreed that the pace was a bit faster than she expected.

In the second half, though, the Colonials settled down. Spanou, who received her NEC Player of the Year award before the game, scored Robert Morris' first seven points to close the gap to 33-31 just three minutes in.

From there, it was only a matter of time. Stamolamprou tied the score, 35-35, on a floater with 14:57 left, and Spanou gave the Colonials a lead they would never relinquish on the next possession.

"Once we started on a roll in the second half, changing things up ourselves, the momentum came," Buscaglia said.

"Then I think you forget about the magnitude of the game and just play. I think we were just playing."

As the top seed in the tournament, the Colonials will face the lowest remaining seed in the conference semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sewall Center.

Sam Werner: and Twitter @SWernerPG

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