NEC top-seed Robert Morris shows no letdown, routs CCSU
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — With the Northeast Conference's regular-season title already in hand and nothing to play for until Wednesday's NEC quarterfinals, Robert Morris had every reason to treat Saturday's game at Central Connecticut as an irrelevant exhibition.
Instead, the Colonials used the game to send a message to the rest of the NEC: The Colonials are already in postseason form.
Russell Johnson scored 20 points and Coron Williams had five 3-pointers, including three in a row to break the game open, as Robert Morris opened up an early lead and cruised to an 81-61 win over CCSU before 2,364 at Detrick Gym.
The win was the eighth in nine games for Robert Morris (22-9, 14-4), which will host No. 8 seed St. Francis (N.Y.) (12-17) in the NEC quarterfinals at Sewall Center on Wednesday. The Colonials will have home court throughout the tournament.
They knew all this coming into Saturday, making the final road game of the year a potential letdown.
It was not.
“I was impressed with the way we handled the entire situation,” RMU coach Andrew Toole said. “Obviously, the game didn't have any bearing on seeds, but to come out and perform with some detail and some focus, I was impressed with the way we handled our preparation heading into the game and the way we handled the 40 minutes.”
The Colonials handled the first 20 minutes especially well, jumping on the Blue Devils from the start. It was 8-0 before the Blue Devils (13-16, 9-9) got anything going.
A 3-pointer by Velton Jones (12 points, seven assists) made it 21-7 at the 13:17 mark, but CCSU made one big push, getting to within 26-17 on a Malcolm McMillan steal and score.
That's when Williams (17 points) took over. He hit three 3-pointers in 51 seconds to give RMU a 35-17 lead.
The margin would stretch to 27 in the second half, with CCSU getting no closer than 14.
“When he gets it rolling, he's tough to stop,” Toole said of Williams. “He's a guy who even when you think you've guarded him well, he can get his shot. He was able to get free and his teammates were able to find him.”
The Blue Devils couldn't get sophomore guard Kyle Vinales going. He entered the game averaging 22 points but was just 3 of 15 from the field, including 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
CCSU, which has a rotation of seven players, played a double-overtime game Thursday night before the quick turnaround for Saturday game. The Blue Devils didn't think fatigue mattered, however. Instead, they were impressed with the Colonials.
“What you saw today was the best team in the league come in and dismantle us,” CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. “They outhustled us, they took away our shooting, they got into our grills and made sure we didn't get good looks at the baskets.”
Matt Straub is a freelance writer.