RMU clinches NEC title, home-court advantage in playoffs
SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Robert Morris coach Andy Toole admitted that Thursday night's standing-room-only crowd at Bryant's Chace Athletic Center was the toughest environment the Colonials have played in this season.
So how did the Colonials block out the ear-splitting noise to edge the Bulldogs, 77-75, and clinch the Northeast Conference regular-season title?
“We have a lot of guys that have played in a lot of games like that,” Toole said. “That's a crew of guys that as freshmen and sophomores went to LIU and lost a game in overtime in the championship where you couldn't hear yourself think.
“They've been through these kinds of experiences. Velton Jones, Russell Johnson and Anthony Myers have been in this kind of environment. I knew it would be a factor early because you're so excited and so energized by that crowd. I was worried early how we would settle in. But I thought coming down the stretch it wouldn't affect our play.”
As regular-season champs, the Colonials secured home-court advantage throughout the NEC playoffs next week and earned an automatic bid to the NIT Tournament if they don't win the NEC's automatic berth in NCAA Tournament.
Karvel Anderson led RMU (21-9, 13-4) with 24 points, while Lucky Jones added 17. Each came up big in the second half, as Anderson scored 17 points and Jones 14.
Anderson's 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left in regulation gave RMU a 74-69 lead, and two free throws by Jones two seconds later essentially clinched the victory.
“Karvel was terrific tonight,” Toole said. “In the first half he took a couple of tough ones. I told him to calm down. You're going to get your looks.
“In the second half, he did a nice job of attacking the basket. He got to the free throw line himself. That kind of softened him up and allowed him to make some of those outside shots.”
Bryant led, 37-31, at halftime due in large part to Anthony Francis, who scored 14 of his 22 points.
Toole said he felt RMU's man-to-man defense was the key in the second half — in all, RMU scored 12 points off 16 Bryant turnovers.
“We talked coming into the game about ball pressure and really trying to make them uncomfortable,” Toole said. “They move the ball so well on the pass that if you don't pressure them, they're going to pick you apart.
“If you don't have somebody that pressures that ball and makes that guy pause so the rest of your defense can catch up, you don't have a chance.”
Mike Scandura is a freelance writer.