RMU downs St. Francis (N.Y.) to reach NEC semifinals
Robert Morris, the top seed in the NEC Tournament, is playing its best basketball at the right time.
The Colonials routed No. 8 seed St. Francis (N.Y.), 75-57, Wednesday night in a quarterfinal game at Sewall Center that avenged an early-season loss and maintained their status as the hottest team in the league.
RMU has won six straight, nine of 10 and 15 of 17.
The Colonials (23-9) will need to maintain that streak against No. 5 seed Mount St. Mary's in a semifinal matchup at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Sewall Center.
The NEC Tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We're just trying to be humble. We're not worried about how many games we've won,” senior point guard Velton Jones said.
Formerly a scorer, Jones distributed a game-high eight assists. His playmaking skills led to a big performance for Karvel Anderson, who lit up St. Francis for a game-high 20 points in only 23 minutes off the bench.
Anderson did most of his damage in the second half, when he scored 13 points. Russell Johnson (19 points) and Lucky Jones (16) got the Colonials started early, combining for 23 points in the first half, including 15 of RMU's first 18 points.
Draining 7 of 9 shots, the Colonials led 18-6 at the 15:59 mark.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game,” said Lucky Jones, who shot 5 for 9 and grabbed seven rebounds.
Johnson added seven rebounds and a game-high five steals.
“We just talked to the guys and got them ready for what they're in for,” Johnson said about the Colonials' mental approach entering the Tournament.
St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said his players didn't match the Colonials' intensity as they did in a 71-61 upset win Jan. 31.
“Mentally, the edge favored them tonight,” said Braica, whose team finished the season at 12-18. “They were going to come in on all cylinders.”
“I hope we can play as long as they allow us to,” RMU coach Andrew Toole said.
Strong defense settled RMU after a St. Francis run cut the lead to 20-16. The Colonials regained a double-digit advantage, 26-16, as their pressure created more possessions and their shot-selection improved.
RMU scored the final five points to lead 37-23 at intermission.
The Colonials opened the second half determined not to experience a similar letdown that permitted St. Francis to remain close during early stretches.
Coron Williams buried a 3-pointer to open a 40-23 lead. After a St. Francis basket cut the advantage to 15 points, a defensive lapse allowed the visitors a free drive to the basket. The shot missed, but Brent Jones was awarded two free throws that could have put some pressure on the Colonials. Jones missed both shots. St. Francis followed that by committing a turnover on its next possession.
The pattern of the game was established. Despite losing at St. Francis during the season, RMU was the superior team. When the Colonials finally put it all together, they were be able to start looking ahead to Saturday's semifinal.
RMU's takeover took longer than expected. The Colonials opened the second half missing five of their first eight shots.
Jones provided stabilizing leadership, sinking a short jumper and feeding Anderson for a fastbreak layup.
Anderson's 3-pointer from the top of the circle gave RMU its largest lead of the night at 56-33. And still the Colonials couldn't put St. Francis away.
The Colonials led, 57-39, as St. Francis slowed the game with a steady stream of hard-charging drives resulting in free throws that compensated for poor field-goal shooting.
Anderson drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 68-45. Another RMU basket extended the lead to 70-47 and resulted in a St. Francis timeout with 4:27 remaining.
“I had the opportunity to put the nail in the coffin, and I took advantage of it,” Anderson said.