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Robert Morris men would rather be dancing

| Monday, March 17, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

If Robert Morris senior guard Karvel Anderson had his choice, the Colonials would be playing in Dayton, Ohio, instead of New York on Tuesday

Not that playing basketball in New York City isn't a big thing, but Anderson and his teammates would rather be playing in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT.

Robert Morris missed that chance by falling to Mount St. Mary's, 88-71, in the Northeast Conference championship March 11.

The NEC regular-season champion is awarded an NIT bid, so the Colonials (21-13) open against Big East opponent St. John's (20-12) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Carnesecca Arena.

This is Robert Morris' third time playing in the NIT. They fell to Syracuse, 87-81, in 2008, but they defeated Kentucky, 59-57, in 2013 before falling to Providence, 77-68, in the second round.

“It's been hard, and it still hurts,” Anderson said about the past week. “Usually when you're down about things, the gym and the court is where you go to take your mind off of things. But it's the place where all the bad stuff happened. It's been hard, and there is still a lot of pain and anguish from it.

“It's not where we want to be, but it's still another great opportunity. It's not Kentucky, but you see what happened last year. We have to make the best of our opportunities, and I'm appreciative that I can still keep playing and wearing my jersey for another game.”

No one gave the Colonials a chance when Kentucky showed up at Sewall Center in 2013. But the Colonials played a strong game and showed the country they could play with the 2012 NCAA champion that night.

Now, they play St. John's, which also has a storied tradition.

“It's a great experience to still be playing,” Robert Morris junior Lucky Jones said. “A lot of teams in the country aren't playing.

“We have to take advantage of the opportunity and go out and hopefully get a ‘W.' Going home isn't my main focus, it's helping my team get a win. I have to work as hard as I can, and hopefully, we'll shock the world again.”

It won't be easy. St. John's rarely loses at its on-campus gymnasium. The Red Storm are making a record 29th appearance in the NIT. They won the tournament five times.

“They are seventh all-time in wins in NCAA history,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “They have great, storied tradition, especially with the NIT, and they are New York City's team.

“We have an opportunity to go up against another storied program. Hopefully, it energizes the team.”

St. John's coach Steve Lavin said his team will face a tough challenge from the Colonials.

“Robert Morris is a conference champion that is no stranger to postseason success,” Lavin said. “They shoot the ball well and play an aggressive 2-3 zone.”

Junior guard D'Angelo Harrison leads St. John's, averaging 17.7 points.

Anderson said he's impressed with the size and athletic ability of the Red Storm.

“They're probably a little down because they didn't get picked for the NCAA tournament,” Anderson said. “It's an exciting matchup for us. We really think our zone can bother them a little bit.

“We feel we have a shot to win. We feel we can play against anyone at anytime.”

Said Toole: “We've been in a fog since last Tuesday, and we're trying to get through that disappointment. But the only way to get through it is get on the court and start working again. Lying in bed and pulling the covers over your head isn't going to do anything.”

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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