Robert Morris holds on for Northeast title, clinches NCAA berth
NEW YORK — To label what transpired inside Pope Physical Education Center on Tuesday night as a mere basketball game is to significantly understate what materialized in the intimate gym at the small college on Remsen Street in the heart of Brooklyn.
New York kids and Pittsburgh kids went toe-to-toe for the better part of two hours, a berth in the NCAA Tournament awaiting the winner.
So it was only fitting a kid who grew up nearby would make the two most important shots in a pulsating battle of wills.
“Unreal,” said Lucky Jones, after his two free throws with 13 seconds remaining closed out Robert Morris' 66-63 win over St. Francis Brooklyn in the Northeast Conference championship game.
For the first time since 2010 and the eighth time in program history, the Colonials (19-14) are going to The Dance.
“It was great. A lot of my friends have been calling me Marv Levy because (we) haven't won the big one,” said RMU coach Andrew Toole, referring to the former coach of the four-time Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills. “These guys will be excited to hear their name (called on Selection Sunday).”
Rodney Pryor led five Colonials in double-figures with 17 points. Elijah Minnie had 14. Jones finished with 12 off the bench. Kavon Stewart chipped in with 11, and Marcquise Reed had 10.
Pryor was named to the all-tournament team and the tournament's MVP. He was joined by Jones, St. Francis' Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, and Saint Francis (Pa.)'s Earl Brown.
A taut affair throughout, it appeared as if Robert Morris slowly had wrested control of the game midway through the second half. The second-seeded Colonials outscored the Terriers, 13-3, in a span of 4:12 to turn a 44-44 tie into a 57-47 advantage, culminated by Pryor's three.
Still, St. Francis Brooklyn, the NEC's top seed, would cut the deficit to 60-58, after Brent Jones' coast-to-coast layup to conclude an 11-3 run spanning 4:10. The lead was sliced to 64-63 after Glenn Salabria drilled a straight away three with 16.2 seconds left.
Jones made two free throws on the ensuing possession to push the lead to 66-63, and then the Colonials had to hold their breath after Minnie fouled Tyreek Jewell from behind the arc.
Jewell, who led all scorers with 19, missed all three free throws, forcing the Terriers to intentionally foul Jones. The senior sixth man missed both free throws before Lowell Ulmer's heave at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
“I was praying it (wouldn't) go in,” Lucky Jones said. “I should have made (the) two free throws.”
Sanabria and Jalen Cannon finished with 10 each for St. Francis (23-11), which accepted a NIT berth after the game.
St. Francis coach Glenn Braica credited Robert Morris' zone defense for limiting the Terriers' inside-out combination. The Colonials limited St. Francis to 10-of-29 shooting from the field in the second half, and 23 of 60 overall.
“We know those guys (are) key (to St. Francis), Toole said of Sanabria and Cannon. “We wanted to be active when the ball went in there. The zone helps us.”
Denis Gorman is a freelance writer