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Robert Morris can clinch conference with win at Bryant

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Central Connecticut State coach Howie Dickenman's prediction was correct.

After his team defeated Robert Morris at the Sewall Center on Jan. 5, dropping the Colonials to 0-2 in the Northeast Conference, Dickenman said not to worry, Robert Morris would be OK.

Colonials coach Andy Toole wasn't as optimistic. It was a low point of the season, and a frustrated Toole was searching for answers about why his team struggled to rebound and play good defense.

Toole found his answers, and with two games left in the regular season, Robert Morris faces Bryant on Thursday beedubg a victory to clinch the conference title and home-court advantage in the NEC Tournament. Robert Morris (12-4) is a game ahead of Bryant (11-5) in the NEC with two games remaining.

The Colonials' recent game against Fairleigh Dickerson was an example of how far the team has come. As the Colonials rolled to an 89-46 victory, they were dominant on boards and played solid defense.

“We have to put forth that same effort at Bryant,” senior guard Velton Jones said. “We have to stay focused and pay attention to details.”

Toole put his players on day-to-day contracts after those early losses, making sure the players simplified their focus. If players didn't honor the terms of the contract, they sat.

The players responded, yet there still are times they have Toole shaking his head.

“We like to learn the hard way because we're stubborn,” Toole said. “Thankfully, we have learned, but there's still a lot more to try and accomplish and stay focused on.”

Beating Bryant is a must and can make Saturday's game against Central Connecticut State less important. If Bryant wins Thursday, it would hold the tiebreaker over RMU.

Bryant opened the conference season winning six consecutive games. Since that quick start, it is 5-5. The Bulldogs won the first meeting in Moon Township, 84-77.

The trio of Dyami Starks (29 points), Frankie Dobbs (26) and Alex Francis (18) combined for 73 points for Bryant.

“We're looking forward to the challenge,” Jones said after scoring 20 points against FDU.

The play of Jones and senior forward Russell Johnson has drastically improved — Jones as a floor general and creator and Johnson playing with confidence.

Johnson has pulled down more than 700 rebounds in his career, and he's closing in on the school record of 751. He is third with 715.

“I want that record,” Johnson said. “But the conference title is more important.”

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