With win, RMU is in once again
A milestone night for Russell Johnson became an important night for the Robert Morris men's basketball team.
The junior forward grabbed eight rebounds to join the 500-rebound club and scored 10 points off the bench, as the Colonials cruised to a 70-56 win over St. Francis (Pa.) on Saturday night at Sewall Center.
The win clinched a Northeast Conference playoff berth for Robert Morris, the ninth consecutive year that's happened.
"When he plays to his strengths, we can be a really good team," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said of Johnson, who also had three assists, two blocks and three steals. "He can be involved in all of it, like he was tonight.
"He was involved in some great passing. He was involved in some great defensive plays. He had some great blocks. He had some great finishes. And that's what he's capable of doing."
Johnson had been bothered by a thumb injury that kept him out of five games before he returned for a loss at Wagner on Feb. 2. He missed the Colonials' next game -- a 67-62 win at Mount St. Mary's -- but returned for Wednesday's 78-74 victory at St. Francis (Pa.) and recorded six points, six rebounds and three assists.
"I feel great," the soft-spoken Johnson said. "It feels great to get back on the court."
Guard Velton Jones had a different take.
"It feels good to have the normal Russell back," Jones said. "It's about time; we've been needing him."
Guard Coron Williams led Robert Morris (19-8, 10-4) with 18 points and made 4 of his 6 shots from 3-point range. Jones scored 13 points and made 9 of 12 free throws, tying the single-season record at RMU with 151.
Jones also dived to try to force a turnover and went sliding out of bounds, a hustle play that drew widespread praise.
"He's a tough dude," St. Francis (Pa.) coach Don Friday said. "He'd probably dive on a grenade to save a buddy."
Robert Morris was credited with 13 steals and forced 24 turnovers, two numbers that weren't exactly pleasing to the outspoken Friday.
"That's like throwing buckets of water in your rowboat," Friday said. "You can only do that so many times before you fail."
Robert Morris, which plays its next two games at home, had a 37-26 lead at halftime. But the Colonials came out sluggish and surrendered the first five points of the second half before layups from Mike McFadden (11 points) and Williams restored the lead to 10.
St. Francis (Pa.) cut the deficit to five on a 3-pointer from Ollie Jackson with 9 minutes, 46 seconds to go, only to have Robert Morris freshman Lucky Jones draw a foul, convert a pair of free throws, make a layup and force a turnover.
All told, Jones ignited a 6-0 run that gave Robert Morris a 56-45 edge with 7:46 to play, the game effectively out of reach, the playoffs within sight.
"If you're not in the tournament, you can't win the tournament. So obviously it's great to qualify for it," Toole said. "I think it's a good thing when our program has been there for nine years, and there's an expectation that you have to be in it, that there's no reason not to be in it."
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