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On the road, Robert Morris men's basketball team right at home

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Robert Morris coach Andy Toole doesn't believe his program has a patent on road success in the Northeast Conference Tournament. He just thinks his group of players enjoy this time of the year — when everything's on the line.

RMU, which has a record seven NEC championships, seeks its eighth Wednesday night at Long Island. It's the fourth consecutive trip to the title game for the Colonials and their third straight on the road. They won at home in 2009 and at Quinnipiac in '10.

This is the second consecutive season that RMU and Long Island have met for the title. Long Island won last year's matchup, 85-82, in overtime.

"They average 81.6 points per game, and we can't let them near that if we want to win," Toole said. "It's going to be a difficult challenge. We have to control the tempo."

That's what the Colonials did Sunday at Wagner, when they posted a 71-64 victory in the semifinals. They did the same thing last year in the semifinals at Quinnipiac and two years ago — coach Mike Rice's final season — to claim the title there.

"We performed well at Wagner," Toole said. "We're playing defense with passion, and we're playing together."

It doesn't hurt that RMU has players from successful high school programs. Junior point guard Velton Jones led Philadelphia Northeast Catholic to a city title; junior forward Russell Johnson played for Pennsylvania standout Chester; and freshman forward Lucky Jones played at national power St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J.

"We have guys who aren't used to losing," Toole said. "When they do, they try to figure new ways to win."

Long Island is led by NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd (17.4 ppg) and first-team player Jamal Olasewere (17.0). Jason Brickman (9.5), who was named to the second team, likes to push Long Island's offense, which ranks in the top five in the nation in tempo.

"They're a talented squad," Toole said. "They like to throw the ball ahead, and we have to make sure to get back. We have to try to keep them in the 60s."

RMU did that Jan. 26 when it won, 75-66, to snap the visiting Blackbirds' nine-game winning streak. The Colonials are 21-4 when they hold a team to 70 points or fewer — and 3-5 when a team scores 70 or more. Altogether, they have 12 wins on the road, tied for the most in Division I.

"Everyone plays a little different in the tournament," Toole said. "We seem to defend better because the players know in our conference the only way to get into the NCAA Tournament is to win the conference."

Colonials gameday

NEC championship

Robert Morris at Long Island

When/where: 7 p.m. Wednesday/Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV/radio: ESPN2/WPIT-AM (730)

Records: Robert Morris 24-9, Long Island 24-8

Series: RMU leads, 37-27

Players to watch

RMU: Velton Jones, Jr., G — Had 25 points against Wagner, shooting 14 for 16 from the foul line, in the semifinals.

Long Island: Julian Boyd, Jr., F — NEC Player of the Year had 21 points to rally the Blackbirds past Quinnipiac in the semis.




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