Robert Morris men top LIU Brooklyn, stay perfect in NEC
For the majority of the second half, it looked like Robert Morris and LIU Brooklyn were headed for a game that would come down to the final possession.
But Matty McConnell and Koby Thomas helped make sure the Colonials could breathe easy in the final moments.
McConnell scored nine of his 15 points in the final minute and a half, and Thomas converted a key three-point play late to help the Colonials continue their strong start in Northeast Conference play with an 88-79 victory over LIU Brooklyn on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.
Thomas hit a runner in the lane while being fouled and converted the free throw to put the Colonials in front 81-74 with 56 seconds to play. McConnell converted four free throws and dunked after Thomas' three-point play to seal it. Thomas finished with 17 points. Dachon Burke had 20 points for the Colonials.
RMU (10-7) improved to 4-0 in the NEC to continue its best start in conference play since the 2013-14 season.
“I think everyone had their doubts about us with how young we are, but the guys in the locker room and the coaches know what they are doing,” McConnell said. “We're clicking on all cylinders right now, and it feels good to be 4-0.”
Before the Colonials pulled away, the second half was a back-and-forth affair.
A running layup in the lane by Burke and a 3-pointer by Leondre Washington gave the Colonials a 70-64 lead, but the Blackbirds got a 3-pointer from Joel Hernandez during a 7-2 run that cut the lead to 72-71 with 3 minutes remaining.
Hernandez (19.3 ppg) and Raiquan Clark (17.8) are two of the top three scorers in the NEC. Clark finished with 23 points, but the Colonials held Hernandez to 11 points.
Jeannette native Julian Batts, a sophomore guard for the Blackbirds, had a solid homecoming with 13 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals.
“We didn't come up with two loose balls when it was a one-point game, and then on defense we didn't finish the play,” LIU-Brooklyn coach Derek Kellogg said. “I was anticipating the game being a bit closer in the final moments, and hopefully, the hometown guy (Batts) could've made a basket to get us a victory, but it didn't go that way.”
A pressing LIU Brooklyn defense gave the Colonials trouble early, and they trailed by as many as seven in the first half. But a 3-pointer and a dunk by Burke spurred an 8-2 run tie the score 20-20.
From there, neither team led by more than four points and they traded the lead several times. Batts hit two free throws in the final seconds to tie it 38-38 at the half.
“LIU was a little more aggressive with their pressure than they had been in previous games, and I didn't think we handled it very well to start the game, but we did much better, especially in the second half,” RMU coach Andy Toole said. “Those are the type of things that we are going to have to learn on the fly.”
Toole's focus is not on the 4-0 NEC start but on keeping his young team dialed in for the next opponent. The Colonials have only two seniors, both graduate transfers. RMU hosts St. Francis (Pa.) on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
“We don't want to look big picture with our guys. We want to keep the window as small as humanly possible, so that they remember what's important,” Toole said. “It's a battle to get them to do it. We've had a ton of growth from the first game until now, but there's going to be a lot of situations moving forward that we have to make sure we're going to be locked in an engaged on.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.