The Robert Morris Colonials (6-10, 1-0) concluded the non-conference portion of their schedule with more losing streaks (three) than winning streaks (two), but like most mid-majors, a season is seldom won or lost during non-conference play - barring a major injury or two, and/or unforeseen circumstances.
Robert Morris looked to their alpha dog, senior guard Karvel Anderson, to make sure they started NEC play with a win. Tonight, Anderson submitted a performance for the ages in their 79 - 70 win on the road against the Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-13, 0-1).
RMU stuck with the aggressive 2-3 zone that they first used extensively against Toledo back in early December. The Pioneers were prepared for the zone; the first four baskets they made were a dunk and three layups. Sacred Heart positioned a player in the high post early in the game, and the Colonials seemed a step slow when that player attacked the basket.
The Pioneers led for nearly 13 minutes of the first half, but never led by more than five points. Eventually, the intensity picked up for Robert Morris, and they began attacking the basket.
From the 14:29 mark to the 6:26 in the first half, RMU scored 12 of their 14 points on layups (plus two free throws). The last layup by junior guard David Appolon gave the Colonials their first lead of the game, 23 - 22. The intensity picked up on the defensive end as well.
Robert Morris stole five passes in the last 15 minutes, seven in the first half. They started getting their hands on passes intended to go into the high post. RMU stole the ball several times right as the ball crossed half court, which almost always resulted in a layup. The Colonials took a 41 - 30 lead into halftime with Anderson leading the way with 14 points.
Sacred Heart got within five points of Robert Morris within the first minute of the second half, but never got closer than that until there was just 4:10 left in the game. Anderson scored 22 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, and simply looked unstoppable.
A late 10-1 run by the Pioneers cut the deficit to just two points after a free throw by freshman forward DeVon Barnett with exactly two minutes left in the game. But Anderson scored the next five points of the game, and two free throws by Jones put the game on ice.
Sacred Heart was led by senior forward Mostafa Abdel Latif. He scored a team-high 17 points on a perfect 8-8 from the floor; he also pulled in a game-high 12 rebounds, and was very good working out of the high post.
RMU was led by the career-high 36 points from Anderson. He was a sizzling 15-19 from the floor, 6-7 from beyond the arc, pulled down five rebounds, and stole three passes.
Junior guard/forward Lucky Jones had a decent game by his standards: 17 points on 4-10 shooting, 3-5 from three-point land, and a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe. Senior point guard Anthony Myers-Pate led the team with four steals, and was very disruptive at the top of the 2-3 zone.
For one of the few times this year, the Colonials looked much more athletic and physically superior to their opponent. Even though they play an aggressive zone, the Pioneers were constantly passing the ball around the perimeter at least six to eight feet beyond the three-point line for fairly long stretches in the game.
They often settled for long three-pointers, and seldom found the creases in the zone that we've seen other teams take advantage of in previous games against the Robert Morris.
That's not to say that RMU doesn't need to work on some nagging defensive issues; as many of the writers who follow them have pointed out. The fact is the NEC isn't full of teams that can exploit the Colonials like many of their non-conference foes did.
Robert Morris will have one day to prepare for a big game at Bryant (9-7, 1-0) on Saturday. Sacred Heart will play Fairleigh Dickinson (5-10, 1-0) at home on Saturday.