Robert Morris reaches another Northeast Conference final
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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Velton Jones thought experience was the difference.
And who could argue with the gritty point guard after he led Robert Morris to a 71-64 victory in the NEC Tournament semifinals Sunday at Wagner, clinching its fourth consecutive trip to the championship game?
"We've all been in games like this before," the junior said after scoring a game-high 25 points to propel No. 3 seed RMU to Wednesday night's title game at top-seeded Long Island, a rematch of last year's final. "We stayed composed all the way through, and nothing they did was a surprise to us."
The victory yielded Robert Morris' 11th trip to the NEC final. The Colonials (24-9) have won a league-record seven tournament crowns, most recently in 2010. They fell, 85-82, in overtime last season.
Russell Johnson added 12 points for RMU, and Coron Williams scored 11. Latif Rivers led No. 2 seed Wagner (25-6) with 18 points but was just 3 of 12 from the floor.
After a choppy first half marked by 29 fouls and 39 free throws, RMU trailed, 31-29. But the Colonials opened the second with an 11-1 run to take a 40-32 lead.
"We were finally able to get into an offensive flow," coach Andy Toole said. "We started scoring on some layups and put-backs and getting something inside. I was proud of the way the guys stuck with it until we got there."
When Wagner cut the lead to 40-36 moments later, it was Jones' time. He sailed home a 22-footer off an inbound play to stretch the Colonials' lead back to 43-36. Two minutes later, the Philadelphia product scored on a twisting baseline drive. He followed that with a pair of free throws after hauling down a rebound in traffic to make it 53-45.
"I was just trying to make the right plays," he said.
The performance was starkly different from Jones' last visit to Spiro Sports Center, when he shot 2 of 15 for nine points in an 80-69 loss Feb. 2.
"I didn't even think about that game," he said. "I didn't play to my abilities that day, but it wasn't on my mind at all."
Jones capped his afternoon by drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt with 30 seconds remaining after Wagner had trimmed its deficit to 65-62. He missed the 3 but converted all three free throws, and RMU held on.
"They made the run at the end," Jones said. "But we just stayed calm and finished the game."
Long Island hangs on
Julian Boyd scored 21 points, and Long Island made just enough free throws down the stretch to beat Quinnipiac, 78-75, on Sunday night in the NEC Tournament semifinals.
The top-seeded Blackbirds (24-8) earned a rematch of last year's final against Robert Morris. Long Island prevailed, 85-82, in overtime last season to earn a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Boyd laid in the basket that put the top-seeded Blackbirds (24-8) ahead for good at 71-69 with 3:38 to play, but they couldn't convert enough free throws in the final two minutes to get comfortable. James Johnson, who had 17 points for No. 5 seed Quinnipiac (18-13), hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
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