Jones' buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifts Robert Morris to victory
FAIRFIELD, Conn. — In basketball, 4.6 seconds can be a lifetime.
Andrew Toole told his Robert Morris players just that as the Colonials gathered in a huddle down one point Thursday night with seconds remaining against Sacred Heart at Pitt Center.
The head coach was right.
Velton Jones took the inbounds pass, shook free from one defender on his way up the floor, then buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer with another Pioneer draped on him to give the Colonials a 55-53 victory.
"It was crazy," said Jones, who finished with a game-high 16 points. "The (final) play was drawn up to get the ball down low, but there was no way I was passing that ball, and it went in."
Jones was mobbed by teammates after the game-winning shot gave RMU (22-8, 13-4 NEC) its sixth straight victory and kept hope alive for the third seed in the conference tournament. The Colonials close out the regular season at Quinnipiac on Saturday.
"When guys came into the huddle with 4.6 seconds left, there were some long faces, and I said, 'Guys, there's still 4.6 seconds left; it's an eternity in basketball,'" Toole said. "Obviously, it was a great shot and a great win."
The Colonials have enjoyed multiple quality wins after returning to their defense-first roots. Sacred Heart (13-17, 7-10) entered the game third in the NEC in scoring at 71.9 points per game, but RMU established early that its defense would set the tone.
Despite a 1 for 8 start from the field, the Colonials grinded their way to a 16-9 lead. Sacred Heart answered with a 12-0 run, but the Colonials still managed a 25-25 tie at halftime.
One of the reasons was the solid job Jones and his teammates did defending NEC leading scorer Shane Gibson. The Sacred Heart junior managed just four first-half points and finished with 12 — his second-lowest total all season — before fouling out with 1:10 left.
Gibson came in averaging 22.2 points and dropped 29 on RMU in their first meeting Jan. 14. In the rematch, Gibson failed to hit a 3-pointer for only the second game all season.
"He's such an efficient scorer, it doesn't take him a lot of shots to get to 29," Toole said. "We just wanted to keep him out of rhythm, and he being in foul trouble definitely helped us."
RMU's defense was effective, but the Pioneers never trailed by more than five in the second half. After Russell Johnson's jumper gave RMU a 47-42 lead with 7:23 left, the team failed to hit another field goal until Jones' 3.
Sacred Heart took the lead only once — on freshman Phil Gaetano's two free-throws with 4.6 seconds left that put the Pioneers up 52-51.
"I had a feeling we were going to catch one and come up with a win in a tight game," said Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike, whose team has lost eight times by less than six points. "We were seconds away."
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