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Robert Morris will rely on defensive effort in NEC semifinals

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 7:09 p.m.
Robert Morris' Karvel Andersons scores past St. Francis (N.Y.)'s Lowell Ulmer during the second half of an NEC Tournament first-round game Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at Sewall Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Offensively, Robert Morris is flash and substance. The Colonials lead the NEC in 3-point shooting and free-throw percentage.

When their half-court game is out of sync, they can fall back on a perimeter game fueled by guard Karvel Anderson, who scored 20 points in a 75-57 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) in the quarterfinals of the NEC Tournament.

And when they're getting hammered on the offensive glass, they can make up for it at the foul line.

Forwards Russell Johnson and Lucky Jones combined for 36 points and 14 rebounds in getting top-seeded Robert Morris into Saturday's semifinal matchup against No.5-seed Mount St. Mary's at Sewall Center.

But the nuts and bolts of the Colonials' success this season can be credited to an unrelenting defense that's first in scoring and defending the 3-point line.

They, too, have been solid with their transition defense, limiting the opposition to few fast-break opportunities.

“They (Mountaineers) are good at tempo and great at turning you over,” coach Andrew Toole said.

“They are good in transition and at taking threes. It's going to be important for us to get back in transition defense because they'll look to push the ball up quickly.”

The Colonials figure they must control the game's tempo.

They can do so by keeping the Mountaineers from exploiting them in the open court.

Also, they must continue to defend the 3-point arc as they have during their six-game winning streak.

Opposing teams are shooting just 30 percent from beyond the 3-point arc over the past 10 games, which is better than the defense during a three-game losing streak at midseason in which they allowed 80 points per game.

“When you look across the country and see teams getting upsets, it's because they're getting hot behind the 3-point line,” Toole said.

“If you're making 2s and they're making 3s, pretty soon you have some points to make up. We want to make sure we don't give up a lot of clean looks from the 3-point line.

“Defensively, we were struggling. We weren't dictating to our opponents, and we weren't making them uncomfortable. We were sitting back and letting teams shoot the shots they wanted, and they were able to pick us apart.”

The Colonials didn't change anything strategically. Toole said they have simply turned up the heat defensively.

“We have some seniors with tournament experience, so I'm hoping those guys will set the tone,” Toole said.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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