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Robert Morris topples St. John's in NIT opener

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 9:13 p.m.

NEW YORK — One small word can aptly describe the 2013-14 Robert Morris University men's basketball season:

Alive.

The Colonials extended their season for at least one more game with a wire-to-wire 89-78 win over St. John's on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. Robert Morris (22-13) advanced to the second round of the NIT, where the Colonials will meet either Green Bay or Belmont.

“Obviously, (it's) a great win for our program,” coach Andy Toole said. “I didn't even have it in my head that this would be the last time we (would play) together. We'll keep playing for as long as someone (allows us).”

Senior guard Karvel Anderson led all scorers with 38 points. Junior forward Lucky Jones added 23.

Even though the teams were essentially even in rebounding and assists — Robert Morris finished with 42-41 and 18-16 advantages in both categories — the Colonials were quicker to the ball and smarter with it.

For all intents and purposes, the Colonials booked their ticket to the second round in the first half. Robert Morris opened the game with a 22-6 run. At the half, the Northeast Conference regular-season champion Colonials were up 49-27 and well on their way to posting a second consecutive NIT opening-round victory after last year's memorable upset of Kentucky.

“We didn't want our season to end,” Anderson said. “A lot of teams after losing (in the conference tournament and) not making the NCAA Tournament have their heads down.”

Robert Morris created the 22-point lead by packing the lane defensively, forcing the athletic Red Storm (20-13) into a perimeter-oriented half-court game. St. John's shot 37.2 percent from the field. The Colonials shot 48 percent from the field, making 16 of 32 3-pointers against the Big East school.

“We're a team that can make 3s,” Toole said. “We felt we had opportunities for good shots.”

Junior guard Jamal Branch led the Red Storm with 22 points.

Both teams were short-handed. Robert Morris lost junior forward David Appolon in the first half with a foot injury. He sat on the bench in the second half, his foot wrapped, and he had crutches. St. John's played without freshman guard Rysheed Jordan, who was diagnosed with tonsillitis two hours before the game. Jordan averaged 9.7 points, three assists per game and 1.2 steals in 29 games this season.

Denis Gorman is a freelance writer.

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