Emotions ran high at the Sewall Center in Moon Township, PA on Saturday night. Mount St. Mary's (10-14, 6-5) hoped to separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the NEC. The Robert Morris Colonials (16-11, 11-1) wanted to maintain their lead over Bryant, and move one step closer to home-court advantage throughout the NEC Tournament in March.
The Mountaineers dictated the pace of the game early in the contest. They started the game 5-7 from the floor, and took a 11 - 8 lead into the first media timeout. RMU head coach Andy Toole emptied his three-man bench at the 16:33 mark, and junior guard Charles Oliver took full advantage.
He scored eight straight points for the Colonials; his second triple sparked an 11-0 run, which gave Robert Morris a 22 - 13 advantage with just under eight minutes in the half.
Oliver knew that junior guard/forward Lucky Jones and senior guard Karvel Anderson were going to be denied the ball. He took full advantage of every opportunity, "They basically weren't really going to respect me...so I had to make them to pay for that, which that's what I tried to do today."
St. Mary's was able to get within two points of RMU after the second free by senior guard Sam Prescott with less than five minutes in the half. However, the Colonials finished the half strong: Anderson connected for his first points of the game, while Oliver drilled his third make from the beyond the arc of the half. Robert Morris went into halftime with a 31 - 26 lead.
Oliver led all scorers at the half with 13 points on 5-6 from the floor. Jones and Anderson were a combined 2-10 from the field.
RMU was unable to pull away from St. Mary's to start the second half. A Norfleet triple at the 9:07 mark brought the Mountaineers within three points of the Colonials, 44 - 41. A 10-4 run by Robert Morris finally gave them the breathing room they worked all game for.
Emotions ran high with under four minutes left in the game; players from both teams were visibly frustrated. I asked senior guard Anthony Myers-Pate (AMP) after the game if the constant pressure by St. Mary's or their recent history (The Mount defeated RMU in the NEC Tournament last season) was the cause.
He responded, "It's kind of half-and-half, they sent us home last year, so every time we play them there's still a little on our shoulder. Words was said, but we stayed emotionally disciplined."
The Mountaineers increased their defensive intensity, and it helped speed-up the game again for St. Mary's. Whack seized the opportunity by drilling two triples, sandwiched between a floater in the lane by Norfleet. Their combined efforts brought them within four points of the Colonials, 62 - 58 with just 1:39 remaining.
However, a steal by junior guard David Appolon, which he took coast-to-coast for a layup, was the nail in the coffin. It was a hard fought game by both teams, but Robert Morris emerged the victor, 69 - 61.
Whack had a sensational game for the Mountaineers; he finished with a game-high 27 points on 9-18 from the field, including 5-12 from three-point distance. Norfleet was again held to 4-11 shooting against the 2-3 of RMU; he finished the game with just nine points.
Oliver led the Colonials with 19 points on a blistering 7-8 shooting, and a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. AMP had 11 points, while sophomore forward Stephan Hawkins scored 10 points for Robert Morris. Jones had a game-high nine rebounds.
Coach Toole wasn't surprised by Oliver's career night, "Chuck was awesome...a lot of his credit goes to his preparation." He went on to say, "He can get going and get hot in a second."
Toole was pleased with how his team defended the three-point line given how many attempts St. Mary's takes from beyond the arc every game. He said, "They shoot 25 threes a game, regardless of what defense you play."
RMU will play LIU Brooklyn (7-16, 2-8) next Thursday at home. The Mountaineers will travel to Central Connecticut State (8-16, 4-7) next Thursday. They'll make up their postponed game against Bryant on February, 24th due to inclement weather this past Thursday.