Robert Morris men’s basketball ousted in second round of CIT
The opportunity to extend its men’s basketball season with a second appearance in the CollegeInsiders.com Postseason Tournament gave Robert Morris something more to play for this year.
It lasted two games.
The Colonials, who for a fourth year in a row fell short of playing in the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game and earning a possible NCAA Tournament bid, took what they could get in a season that ended Sunday with a 77-70 loss to Presbyterian in the CIT second round.
“We were trying to put guys out there to give us the best chance to win,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said following the Colonials’ last anticipated game at RMU North Athletic Complex, their temporary home this season before moving into UPMC Events Center next fall.
“That’s what we’re doing all the time. We want to win every game.”
Robert Morris (18-17) appeared on their way to keeping their season alive, but Presbyterian (20-15), a Big South Conference member making its first postseason appearance in Division I, had another idea.
Francois Lewis and Adam Flagler scored 19 points each, and JC Younger added 17 to lead Presbyterian, which erased a 13-point halftime deficit with an 18-0 run to start the second half.
“In the second half, especially at the start,” Toole said, “we tried to do stuff that really wasn’t there. We’ve just got to move the ball and let the next guy see if he can make the play. That got us off on the wrong foot in the second half.”
Presbyterian previously made four postseason appearances in NCAA Division II and one in NAIA Division I. The Blue Hose advance to the CIT quarterfinals Tuesday at Marshall (20-14).
“It was disappointing being up at the half and not being able to maintain the lead and win the game,” Toole said.
“We talked about their ability to make threes. Obviously, making 14 of them is a big number, especially the way they started the game and the second half.”
The teams combined for 61 3-point attempts, Presbyterian converting 14 of 31 (45.2 percent), Robert Morris 7 for 30 (23.3).
Presbyterian opened by converting 4 of 5 from behind the arc, then the Blue Hose made their first four of the second half.
“Those were nine of their 14 threes they made during the course of the game, and that was the difference,” Toole said.
Charles Bain paced Robert Morris with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Jon Williams and Josh Williams added 11 points apiece and Matty McConnell and Koby Thomas scored 10 each for the Colonials.
Presbyterian entered the game having attempted a whopping 969 3-pointers, 210 more than Robert Morris.
McConnell, the Chartiers Valley product, fouled out in his final college game with 7.5 seconds remaining. His father, Chartiers Valley girls coach Tim McConnell, who led the Colts to a PIAA championship on Saturday, was among those cheering as his son exited the floor.
Jon Williams’ 3-point shot with 14:08 left ended Robert Morris’ second-half scoring drought after the Colonials had gone nearly six minutes without a point to start the half and fell behind, 49-44.
Robert Morris briefly rallied to take a 50-49 lead on a 3-pointer by Josh Williams.
But Presbyterian went back in front for good on a 3-pointer by Lewis, and the Blue Hose held off the Colonials the rest of the way.
Robert Morris, which lost for just the third time in the past eight games, had seemingly taken control in the first half. but the Colonials’ early second-half collapse was too much too overcome.
The 6-foot-6 Thomas, the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year as a freshman last season, played 23 minutes and was 4-of-8 shooting with five rebounds after playing just 4 minutes in a 98-89 overtime victory over Cornell in the first round.
He sat out 15 games this year, a decision Toole said was based mainly on Thomas’ practice habits, though Thomas did sit out for a time after a sustaining a concussion in practice in January.
“Koby was back to his old way,” Matty McConnell said, “the athletic guy that he is and the great teammate that he is. He showed that in spurts today, and the team is going to need that from him next year.”
McConnell, a senior guard, entered as Robert Morris’ active leader in games played (128), starts (119), points (1,146), rebounds (517), assists (301) and steals (237). He was instrumental in the victory over Cornell, scoring a career-high 27 points, including three 3-pointers in OT.
“I told the guys, ‘I tried to lay the groundwork for you guys,’ and I think the coaches helped me do that,” McConnell said. “We did a good job, and this team is going to be back next year. They’re going to be a team not to be messed with. This team isn’t finished.”
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.