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Defense helps Robert Morris snap skid

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By Bob Blubaugh
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012

EMMITSBURG, Md. -- Robert Morris got back to playing defense and executed a critical offensive play late to earn a 67-62 Northeast Conference road win at Mount St. Mary's on Saturday.

The Colonials held the Mountaineers to 26 percent shooting in the second half and Lijah Thompson scored the go-ahead layup off an inbounds pass from Anthony Myers with 1:36 remaining as Robert Morris snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 17-8 overall, 8-4 in the NEC.

Lucky Jones led the Colonials with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Myers had 15 points, including four free throws in the final minute. Season scoring leader Velton Jones was held to 10 points. Julian Norfleet had a game-high 23 points for Mount St. Mary's (6-17, 4-8).

After leading the conference in defense for most of the season, Robert Morris allowed Wagner to score 80 and St. Francis (N.Y.) 81 in the past week.

"We haven't defended like we need to," Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said. "I keep trying to convince our guys that we aren't an offensive juggernaut. ... In our losses this year, our defense has failed us."

It saved them yesterday. The Colonials fell behind 32-19 in the first half, but held the Mountaineers without a field goal over the final 3:30 to pull within 33-28 at halftime. Then, they opened the second half with a 13-2 spurt.

After getting out to that 13-point lead, Mount St. Mary's managed just two field goals over the next 17 minutes.

"Defense paid off a lot," said Thompson, who had nine points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. "We thought if we were able to lock them down at the end of the first half, it would give us the spark in the second half. And it did."

Robert Morris had to deal with foul trouble throughout the second half after committing four fouls in a span of 14 seconds to put Mount St. Mary's into the bonus with 15:50 remaining.

Myers converted a three-point play to tie it midway through the second half, Lucky Jones and David Appolon drilled 3-pointers, and Thompson scored on a drive to cap an 11-0 spurt that gave Robert Morris a 56-48 lead. But a pair of 3-pointers by Norfleet got the Mountaineers back in it and a Danny Thompson tip-in tied it at 59-59 with 2:47 left.

The score was still tied when Toole called timeout with 8 seconds remaining on the shot clock and instructed Myers to throw a long inbounds pass from in front of the RMU bench to Thompson under the basket. The pass was perfect, Thompson finished it, and the Colonials led 61-59 with 96 seconds left.

"I thought it was a huge momentum booster, not only because you score that late on the shot clock and you take the lead in the game, but also because you executed so well," Toole said.

Robert Morris then went 6 for 6 from the foul line and caused the Mountaineers to miss six of their final seven shots.

"This is our first step in trying to build back what this team is made of," Thompson said. "It's built on defense."

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