With just over three minutes to play and her team clinging to a one-point lead, Robert Morris forward Artemis Spanou admitted that nerves started to creep in a little bit.
"It's a game," she said. "You are going to get nervous, but the thing is don't get bad nervous, get good nervous. That's what I was feeling. I felt good about my team."
Spanou's faith in herself and her teammates was rewarded as the Colonials coolly hit key shots down the stretch to close out a 72-67 victory against Bryant Wednesday in a Northeast Conference semifinal.
After Naana Ankoma-Mensa's free throw cut Robert Morris' lead to one with 3:33 left, the Colonials held Bryant scoreless for the next 3:16 and added five more points to seal the victory.
"I was confident that we would hit the key shots," Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said.
Buscaglia and the Colonials are one win away from booking their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2008, when they lost, 85-42, as a No. 15 seed against Rutgers.
For Spanou, one of the most accomplished players in program history, the finale Sunday against Saint Francis means a chance to add a championship ring to her impressive collection of individual records.
"The only word I can think of is excited," she said. "It's my first time in the final."
Spanou had 24 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulldogs Wednesday, her 27th double-double this season. She had to sit toward the end of the first half after she picked up two fouls.
Bryant used Spanou's absence as a spark to close out the first half on an 11-0 run that tied the score at 34 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
Robert Morris regained the lead with 17:40 left in the game as Ashley Ravelli hit a 3-pointer to give the Colonials a 43-41 advantage they would never give up. The Bulldogs threatened a number of times in the second half, but they could never come up with the tying or go-ahead bucket.
Even after sitting in the first half, Spanou was right where she needed to be in the closing minutes, hitting a baseline jumper that extended Robert Morris' lead to 68-64 with 2:33 to play.
"I told her if it wasn't for that rest [in the first half] she wouldn't have hit that great jump shot on the out-of-bounds play," Buscaglia joked.
Buscaglia said that even as the Colonials tried to protect their lead down the stretch, he wanted his players to keep attacking and not just run out the clock.
"I've seen too many times where teams get insecure about it and they just want the clock to run down," Buscaglia said. "You cannot play the clock."
Like his players, Buscaglia was also looking forward to Sunday.
"No matter what happens on Sunday, the journey has been awesome," he said. "Hopefully we'll get this win, but I love this team."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.