The goal was set and with a 66-38 win over Western Connecticut (16-9, 8-6 LEC) combined with a 62-54 win over Keene State (16-8, 9-5 LEC) the goal was attained. The Rhode Island College women’s basketball team won the first-ever Little East Conference regular season title in program history.
“It was goal number one,” said RIC head coach Marcus Reilly. “We were never shy about it, we set our goals high. During the year we had a lot of expectations set from the outside but they were never as high as the ones we set for ourselves.”
On Saturday, Feb. 18 in the Murray Center, the visiting Owls took a 15-11 lead off a jumper from senior forward Courtney Cirillo 4:51 in. Then RIC hit the Owls with a 13-point run over the next 5:13, sparked by two 3-pointers from senior guard Nicole Girard. Senior guard Stephanie Coro buried a 3-pointer with 1:43 left to give RIC its largest lead of the day at 42-19 with a layup on the Anchorwomen’s very next possession. Girard and Coro bolstered RIC into hitting 10 of their 17 3-point attempts en route to a 44-24 halftime edge.
“We just had to continue to defend,” said senior Cynthia Gaudet on the second half strategy. “All season long we have been building off of our defense. Coach Reilly told us to play good defense and that will carry into offense.”
RIC’s lead stood at 20-points, 50-30, with 13:31 left after Gaudet made two free throws. Keene State then began its comeback attempt. 3-pointers by freshman guard Lauren Brucks and senior guard Sara Laudano helped bring the RIC lead down to 51-43 with 10:03 left.
“Keene is a tough team and a well-coached team. They were never going to stop playing and they just made shots at a higher rate in the second half, said Reilly.
With 5:15 to go, Keene State freshman forward Courtney Roberts’ two free throws brought the Owls within two points, 54-52. Enter RIC senior forward Rachel Riley. The team’s second leading scorer had just four points up until that point, but only needed two possessions to seal the game. First, Riley worked her defender down to get herself an easy layup for a 56-52 RIC lead. Next on defense, she blocked Cirillo’s layup. A 3-pointer from junior guard Ashely O’Dell and free throws from Coro and senior guard Cynthia Gaudet gave the Anchorwomen a 62-54 win.
“I credit our group, certainly our five seniors who took care of business when the game was on the line there at the end.” said Reilly.
In a touching moment before the final buzzer sounded, Reilly took out his five seniors Girard, Riley, Coro, Gaudet, and guard Brittany Saccoccio to receive a standing ovation from the Anchorwomen faithful that packed the Murray Center.
“The seniors have come together to be a rock solid class and they are going to go down as one of the greatest classes in the history of Rhode Island College basketball. I cannot thank them enough for the contributions they made,” said Reilly of his talented group of seniors.
Riley managed only had six points in the contest, but her 12 rebounds put her over 1,000 for her career. Riley is just the third player in program history to tally 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Coro finished Senior Day with a team-high 20 points and four steals. Gaudet and O’Dell both scored 11 points. Girard added six points and 4 assists.
Not only did RIC win its first-ever LEC regular season crown, their 22 wins on the year are the most in program history. With two more victories in the Little East Conference Tournament, the Anchorwomen will advance to the Division III NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
The Anchorwomen will play the winner of fifth-seeded UMass Dartmouth and fourth-seeded Western Connecticut in the Murray Center on Friday, Feb. 24. If they emerge victorious, they will play for the Little East Conference Tournament Championship the following day.