Robert Morris makes 2nd-half comeback to secure share of NEC title
Robert Morris pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in Sewall Center history and did it with only seven players.
The Colonials (17-11, 12-1 NEC) rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit Thursday to defeat rival Long Island (8-17, 3-9), 73-64. The Colonials clinched a share of the Northeast Conference title after Bryant lost to Fairleigh Dickinson.
Just when things looked bleak, the resilient Colonials showed why they are leading the Northeast Conference — they never quit.
“I can't express how proud I am of the team,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said after his team clinched a ninth consecutive winning season. “I wish us coaches can take all the credit, but they did it. We were just along for the ride.
“It was fun to watch. It was just an incredible effort. They made all the plays and made all the stops. I actually had to settle them down during the comeback.”
Robert Morris outscored Long Island, 43-18, over the final 17:11 as senior guard Karvel Anderson scored all 26 of his points in the second half. He didn't hit his first basket until there was 13:15 left.
Anderson, who didn't attempt a shot in the first half, scored the game's final nine points.
His twisting, spinning layup with 3:39 left tied the score at 61. A free throw by Charles Oliver, who finished with 12 points, gave the Colonials a 62-61 lead, and two free throws by Lucky Jones stretched the lead to 64-61.
Anderson then wrapped up the win in the final 1:09.
“I felt we worked too hard to let this slip away,” Anderson said. “We left one slip away earlier in the season and we knew we'd regret it. We've overcome some adverse things and LIU wasn't going to be the team to beat us again.”
Anderson said he took himself out of the offense in the first half because he was standing around. But he credited his teammates for staying in the game.
Teammate David Appolon threw a Gatorade bottle at Anderson in the locker room, which seemed to wake him up.
“My teammates kept pushing me and kept telling me to be aggressive and do what I do,” Anderson said. “They got me going a little bit and kept trying to find me. Kavon (Stewart) and Anthony (Myers-Pate) did a good job in penetrating and trying to get me some shots. They were lucky enough to fall for me and help us get the win.”
Appolon had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Jones had 10 points and eight rebounds against the taller Long Island team.
Toole said Appolon's energy helped spark the second-half comeback.
Oliver scored nine of his 12 points in the first half as Robert Morris raced out to a 24-17 lead.
But when sophomore center Stephan Hawkins went down with a left ankle injury, the Colonials got out of sync.
Long Island went on a 22-5 run after Hawkins exited and went into halftime ahead 39-29.
Hawkins twisted his left ankle making a steal with 9:51 left in the first half.
The Colonials made only 2 for 14 shots from the field and were 0 for 5 from 3-point range after the injury, while LIU was 9 for 14 during the run. Gerrell Martin, who averages 11.1 points per game, scored 11 points in the opening half for the Blackbirds.
“We didn't do much right in the first half defensively,” Toole said. “I could sense before LIU went on the run that we weren't playing with a sense of urgency or with enough energy.”
Long Island shot 62.5 percent from the field in the first half by getting easy shots against the Colonials 2-3 zone. Jason Brickman had 11 points and Gilbert Parga 10 for LIU.
The Blackbirds, after building a 46-30 lead, shot only 33 percent in the second half.
That's when Robert Morris started chipping into Long Island's lead.
The injury to Hawkins shortened an already short bench for the Colonials, who started the game with eight players dressed and finished with seven.
“It hurts, really bad,” Hawkins said while icing his ankle. “When I got the steal, I came down on the side of my foot. Hopefully, I'll be ready for Saturday.”