Robert Morris advances to NEC title game
During Wednesday's Northeast Conference quarterfinals, Robert Morris overcame an illness that afflicted leading scorer Karvel Anderson.
In the semifinals Saturday, the entire Colonials' offense appeared sickly throughout much of the first half.
Once again, though, Robert Morris persevered. And it will be rewarded with another NEC championship game berth.
A healthy Anderson had 21 points, and Robert Morris rode a dominant opening to the second half to overcome an otherwise sluggish performance for a 60-57 win over St. Francis (Pa.).
Lucky Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds for the top-seeded Colonials, who advanced to the NEC Tournament championship game for the fifth time in the past six years despite their worst first-half scoring output under fourth-year coach Andy Toole.
“It wasn't exactly the prettiest game you've ever seen,” Toole said.
“Probably similar to my golf game: Thank God there's no pictures on the scorecard because it will go down as a win — and no one will really have to see the first 18 minutes of that first half.”
Or a good portion of the final five minutes of regulation, for that matter. Upstart St. Francis (10-21) pulled to within a point twice over the final 2:10. A Ronnie Drinnon steal and dunk capped a 10-1 Red Flash run to make it 55-54 with 2:12 left.
St. Francis' Malik Harmon had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but his 3-pointer from roughly 35 feet hit the back of the rim.
“Our guys followed the report, followed our plan and executed what we needed them to,” Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel said. “And when you come up a few inches short of that goal, it hurts.”
Robert Morris (21-12) will try for its conference-record eighth championship when it hosts Mount St. Mary's on Tuesday with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
The No. 4 seed Mountaineers upset No. 2 Wagner, 77-72, in the other semifinal.
Earl Brown had 18 points to lead No. 6 seed St. Francis, which was coming off its first NEC Tournament win in 18 years. The Red Flash failed in their attempt to make a conference championship game for the first time since the 1991 team advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
St. Francis used an early 14-2 run to take a 16-6 lead, and the Red Flash led 20-15 at halftime. Only twice — and not this season — had a Toole team been held to as few as 17 points in the first half.
“They played a very good half on their end in terms of taking us out of what we wanted to do and stopping us defensively,” Anderson said. “They got us kind of out of rhythm a little.
“In the locker room, we just said we played a terrible first half. We told each other it wasn't going to be that way in the second half.”
It wasn't. The Colonials surpassed their first-half scoring output within the first six minutes. They opened the second half on a 15-2 run to take its first lead since 6-5.
Robert Morris scored three times as many points in the second half as it did in the first.
St. Francis has lost 14 consecutive games in the series.