RMU men win in OT, clinch 2nd seed in NEC Tournament
The beginning of overtime was a mangled mess for Robert Morris. Visiting St. Francis (Pa.) ran to an eight-point lead and appeared headed to victory.
“Worst start to overtime in basketball history,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.
But the Colonials made their sudden counterattack count, riding a late surge to a thrilling 71-70 victory in the regular-season finale Saturday at Sewall Center.
Robert Morris (16-14, 12-6) escaped and secured the No. 2 spot in the NEC Tournament and will open against seventh-seeded Wagner (10-19, 8-10) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at home.
Down 67-59 and growing weary in overtime, the Colonials rallied before 2,147 on senior day, scoring six points in 10 seconds to start the run. Junior guard Rodney Pryor hit a 3-pointer, and senior swingman Lucky Jones converted a three-point play to get Robert Morris to within 67-65 with 2:18 to play in overtime.
“I thought we were completely dead. (St. Francis gets two dunks, and they're jumping around,” Toole said. “Then Rodney hits that 3 and (freshman guard Marcquise Reed) gets a steal, and we get fouled. It was like we were hit with paddles and resuscitated.”
Jones was fouled hard on a breakaway, drawing an intentional foul after a review, and made 1 of 2 free throws. Reed made a pair of free throws, after he was fouled on a rebound, to give the Colonials a 68-67 lead with 36.9 to play.
“It was a bummer to start like that,” Pryor said of the overtime. “You always want to get the lead right away in overtime. We knew we had to get some stops.”
Freshman 6-foot-8 forward Elijah Minnie (Lincoln Park) grabbed a key rebound and made 1 of 2 free throws with 14.9 seconds left for a three-point Robert Morris lead.
Jones then took a charge and hit two free throws to give RMU a 71-67 advantage with 3.2 seconds.
“Of course as coaches, we saw it as a block and an and-1,” St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said of the charge called on junior guard Greg Brown. “But (the officials) saw it different. We wanted to be aggressive and attack the basket.”
The loss spoiled a sensational game by high-flying senior forward Earl Brown, who scored 30 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and threw in a pair of highlight-reel dunks for the Red Flash (15-14, 9-9).
“It's always a big game when you play Robert Morris,” said Brown, who capped his day with a halfcourt buzzer-beater to end the game, cementing the importance of Jones' final free-throw.
Pryor led RMU with 22 points and Jones added 20, six in overtime. Minnie pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds for the Colonials.
“Coaches get on me (about rebounding),” Minnie said. “They say grab every rebound you can because you're capable of it.”
Pryor and St. Francis' Ollie Jackson exchanged 3-pointers inside the final minute of regulation, with Jackson's sending the game to overtime.
Robert Morris trailed by 12 in the first half. The Colonials scored 20 points off turnovers, and their bench outscored the Red Flash's, 24-4.
“I am proud of our guys,” Toole said. “To fight their way to the win is pretty remarkable.”