NEC Championship preview: A game for the ages


Photo credit: Morgan Torchia

Robert Morris (16-2 NEC, 25-6 overall) took down the Blackbirds of LIU Brooklyn in the NEC Semifinals, 74-44, and now have another date with the Saint Francis Red Flash (16-2 NEC, 23-9 overall) this Sunday to play for all the marbles.

Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Degol Arena, the Home of the Red Flash. Here is everything you need to know before the two NEC powerhouses tip-off to play for the conference championship.

Previous Meetings:

The Colonials and Red Flash both have one victory over each other this season, with both teams winning on their home court.

The first meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 13 and featured late heroics as RMU won a buzzer-beater from senior Megan Smith, lifting the Colonials 63-62. The Colonials escaped with the victory, remaining undefeated in NEC play at that point in the season but the game wasn’t all pretty for RMU. RMU turned the ball over 33 times, leading to 15 Saint Francis points.

However, when the two teams met on Feb. 3 at Degol Arena, it was a different outcome for Robert Morris, a 68-47 Red Flash win. The Colonials dominated early, starting the game on a 10-0 run and led at halftime by a score of 27-22. However, the wheels fell off for RMU in the second half as, Saint Francis used a 29-point third quarter to surge, taking full control of the game.

Players to Watch:

The season series was split between these two teams as they each handed the other one of their two conference losses. Photo Credit: Morgan Torchia

For RMU, there are a few players to keep an eye on during the championship game. One of those players is Megan Smith. Smith put up double-digit points in the first meeting with 13 points as well as six rebounds. Smith also proved that if the championship game comes down a big shot, she can make it. Smith hit the game-winning shot in that first game after the play RMU drew up fell apart.

Eyes also have to be on freshman guard Megan Callahan. Callahan has had a good NEC Tournament so far finishing with 9 points against CCSU in the quarterfinals and 16 points against LIU Brooklyn in the semifinals. Against Saint Francis this season, Callahan was held to only 2 points in the first meeting but exploded for 17 points in the second game along with five rebounds.

Eye’s also have to be on Nneka Ezeigbo at RMU. Ezeigbo is having a terrific postseason, posting double-digits in the scoring column and she is coming off of the semifinal game where she finished with 21 points, two shy of her season high. Ezeigbo also had recorded one double-double against the Red Flash this season when she scored 14 points and corralled 11 rebounds in the first contest between these two teams.

Ezeigbo typically comes off the bench and gives the Colonials a spark when she enters the game. Look for Ezeigbo to do the same against Saint Francis and if she can get an edge down in the paint underneath the basket and beat the Red Flash defenders, Ezeigbo can be the difference maker for the Colonials.

For Saint Francis, three players that stick out as players to watch all earned NEC postseason honors earlier this week.

Both teams play a physical style of defense that should bring one of the best games this season in the conference’s highest stage. Photo Credit: Morgan Torchia

Jessica Kovatch is the NEC Player of the Year and she has had two great games against the Colonials this season. In the first matchup, Kovatch scored 42 of her teams 62 points. In the second game in February, Kovatch was held to just 9 points in the first half but answered back with 22 points in the second half, finishing with 32 total points. The Colonials limited Kovatch in the first half in the game at Loretto but allowed her to take control in the second half, leading Saint Francis to play their style of basketball.

The second player to watch for Saint Francis is the NEC Defensive player of the year, Ace Harrison. In the Red Flash’s win over RMU, Harrison completed a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Six of her rebounds came on the defensive end and Harrison showed her superb defensive abilities with four steals to go along with her other game attributes.

Another player to watch for Saint Francis is the NEC Rookie of the Year, Caitlyn Kroll. Kroll also had a good game against Robert Morris in that game in Loretto finishing with 12 points. Kroll is a player that can step up for the Red Flash if Kovatch or Harrison are limited by the Colonials defense. All eyes will be on Kovatch, but watch out for Kroll to play a pivotal role if Kovatch and Harrison begin to struggle.


Keys to the Game:

For the Colonials, there are two keys to the game. One, the Colonials need to play a full game. In their quarterfinal game, The Colonials failed to do this, allowing CCSU to crawl back into the game late and make for an interesting finish to the game. The Colonials also failed to do this in their game at Saint Francis, allowing Jessica Kovatch and the Red Flash to turn the tables and dominated the second the half.

The second key for RMU is to limit turnovers. RMU Committed 33 turnovers in that first game against the Red Flash and 22 in the second game. Freshman guard Honoka Ikematsu committed seven turnovers in both games against Saint Francis and senior Jocelynne Jones turned the ball over eight times in that first meeting. Saint Francis Typically full-court presses but the Colonials can’t panic and have to make smart decisions with the ball when the pressure gets tough.

For Saint Francis, their key to the game is simple, give Jessica Kovatch the ball. Kovatch consistently scores double-digit points and has dominated the Colonials this season. If giving the ball to Kovatch doesn’t seem to work in the championship game, then Saint Francis needs to get the rock to Ace Harrison and Caitlyn Kroll.

Conference championship games don’t always feature the best regular season teams in the conference, but in this championship game, it will ultimately determine who reigns supreme in the Northeast Conference.