Robert Morris overcomes Jimmy Boeheim, Cornell in CIT opener
Matty McConnell wasn’t ready to call it his shining moment during a solid, four-year basketball career at Robert Morris, but his third consecutive 3-point shot in an overtime victory Tuesday night over Cornell ranks right up there.
While Jimmy Boeheim — yes, the son of Syracuse hall of fame coach Jim Boeheim — put on a shooting clinic for Cornell, it was McConnell’s shots at critical times that meant the most.
McConnell and Robert Morris made enough shots to come from behind and claim a 98-89 overtime victory over Cornell in a first-round game of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at RMU’s North Athletic Complex in Moon.
It may have been the final home game for the Colonials at their temporary on-campus home before moving into the nearly completed UPMC Events Center next season.
Robert Morris wasn’t expected to learn its second-round opponent before Wednesday morning. The tournament’s first-round games conclude Saturday.
The Williams brothers — Josh (career-high 36) and Jon (20) combined for 56 points, and McConnell scored 11 of his 27 in overtime for Robert Morris (18-16).
“Just like a typical Robert Morris game, right?” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole joked afterwards. “But, really, incredible efforts by Josh, and Matty and Jon. Those guys kind of kept us afloat and willed us to victory.”
Boeheim led Cornell (15-16) with a career-high 31 points, 23 in the first half, when he shot 12 for 14.
Yet it was Robert Morris’ shooting clinic in overtime (5 for 7, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range), keyed by three consecutive 3-pointers by McConnell, the senior from Chartiers Valley, that gave Robert Morris a 93-84 lead and enough of a cushion.
“I knew I was feeling it a little bit after the first two,” McConnell said. “(The Cornell defense on the third one) was a little off me, and I’d been working on that certain shot, and it went in.
“I’d probably say that’s one of my bigger shots I’ve hit in the four years I’ve been here.”
While Boeheim, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, shot 14 for 20, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range, for Cornell, he cooled off in the second half as Robert Morris limited his touches.
“In the locker room afterwards,” Toole said, “we said if we’re going to be playing in March, we might as well be trying to win and have some fun with it. Down the stretch, our guys really got energized and got into it, and it’s great to see.”
Josh Williams shot 12 of 26 for Robert Morris but missed a potential winning shot with the score tied 82-82, and Charles Bain couldn’t get a rebound tip-in to fall at the regulation buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
“I believe it really hit home for us once it hit overtime,” Williams said. “We just started to say, “Why not win?’ ”
The Colonials spent much of the night trying to dig themselves out of a hole they’d stumbled into at the very start.
Robert Morris took its first lead with 6 minutes, 54 seconds left on a Jon Williams steal and layup to give the Colonials a 67-66 advantage.
From there, the lead changed hands over and over, going down to the final seconds before the outcome couldn’t be decided in regulation.
Boeheim was hot from the start, hitting four of his first five shots and finishing the first half with 23 points for Cornell.
Matt Morgan, Cornell’s all-time leading scorer, added 24 points for the Big Red.
Robert Morris, after falling behind by as many as 11 points in the first half, closed within 40-37 at halftime on Jon Williams’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“Obviously, a wild game with not a lot of defense by either team,” Toole said. “But we were able to get a few stops there when we switched to a zone (late in the first half).”
Toole said he felt both teams struggled to adjust to the other’s style of play. He said Ivy League teams such as Cornell present a different challenge.
“We don’t see anybody in our league that cuts with that sort of precision,” Toole said. “But it went both ways. Both of us were able to get what we wanted offensively. You’ve got to kind of will guys to play defense at times, and we came up with some critical stops down the stretch.”
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.