More Northeast Conference heartbreak for Robert Morris men
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — For the second consecutive season, Robert Morris traveled to Long Island with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. For the second year in a row, the Colonials came up short.
Plagued by early foul trouble and an opening-minute injury to point guard Velton Jones, Robert Morris could not unseat the reigning conference champion Blackbirds, falling 90-73 in the Northeast Conference final Wednesday night.
The Colonials (24-10) faced long odds against Long Island, which is 38-4 at home in NEC play during the past two seasons. Last year, the seven-time league champion Colonials fell to No. 1 seed Long Island, 85-82, in overtime.
Freshman Lucky Jones led Robert Morris with 14 points, and Coron Williams added 13.
Velton Jones, who suffered a rib injury when he fell hard to the floor following a fast-break basket one minute into the game, scored 10 points and played 30 minutes. But the all-conference star was clearly slowed.
"It bothered me," Velton Jones said. "I tried to play through it as much as I could."
All five Long Island starters scored in double figures, including NEC Player of the Year and tournament MVP Julian Boyd, who turned a double-double: 18 points, 10 rebounds.
Sophomore point guard Jason Brickman scored 18 points and dished a tournament championship-record 11 assists.
"They were clearly the better team, and they executed their game plan to a T," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said after the No. 3 scoring team in the country forced an up-tempo game against the Colonials. "We tried to play LIU basketball against LIU, and we were not very successful at it."
Robert Morris led 19-15 midway through the first half, when the Blackbirds went on a four-minute, defense-ignited 13-2 run.
The balanced and deep Blackbirds (25-8) received seven points from forward Jamal Olasewere during that span to take a 39-31 halftime lead.
When the Colonials cut the edge to 46-41 early in the second half — despite the injury to Jones and four players carrying three fouls — Long Island answered, this time going on a 9-2 spurt.
"We started taking some quick shots and started to run up and down" said Toole, making his second trip to the tournament title game in his second season at Robert Morris. "That was playing into their hands."
The Blackbirds led 55-43 with 11 minutes to go after Lijah Thompson scored on a post-up play for Robert Morris. But Boyd answered with a spinning power move and followed that with a thunderous fast-break dunk on a long pass from guard C.J. Garner.
"We got better and better as the year went on," Toole said. "And we are a really good team. But we didn't play our best when we had to."
With the league's automatic NCAA Tournament berth gone, the Colonials' season is likely over, though they still are holding out hope for a bid to another postseason tournament.
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