It was senior night at the Sewall Center in Moon Twp., PA on Saturday night. Senior guards Anthony Myers-Pate and Karvel Anderson of the Robert Morris Colonials were recognized before the game in front of 2,381 fans. Both players were determined to not allow the St. Francis Terriers to ruin the occasion.
It was the fourth game in seven days for the Terriers, but they came out looking to punish the Colonials in the paint. They scored on eight of their first nine possessions of the game, including 10 points in the paint that allowed them to take an 18 - 10 lead early on.
Anderson didn't allow St. Francis to extend their lead. He single-handedly sparked a 7-2 run for Robert Morris, which gave them their first lead since the opening minutes of the game, 25 - 24. A back-and-forth battle ensued for the rest of the half, but SFNY muscled their way into some layups as the half closed.
Three different players converted around the rim for the Terriers, while their defense prevented RMU from scoring in the last 2:53 of the half. They took a 37 - 31 halftime lead, which was highlighted by 26 total points in the paint to the Colonials' eight.
Junior forwards Jalen Cannon (10) and Lowell Ulmer (12) combined for 11-13 from the field, and each had five rebounds for St. Francis. Anderson led all scorers with 17 points on 8-12 shooting at the half.
Back-to-back triples by SFC to open the second half helped them take their largest lead of the night at 12 points. For the second straight game, Robert Morris was down by double-digits early in the second half, but again they responded. A 12-3 run, capped-off by a three-pointer by junior guard/forward Lucky Jones brought them within just one possession of the Terriers, 46 - 43.
Another triple by Jones just four minutes later gave RMU their first lead of the second half, 50 - 49. Neither team was able to create any separation down the stretch. Anderson tried putting the nail in the coffin with a fadeaway jumper from the left wing with just 51 seconds left, 62 - 60. However, a twisting floater/layup by junior guard/forward Kevin Douglas on St. Francis' next possession tied the game at 62.
A long jumper by Anderson, right before the buzzer, went off the back of the rim, and both teams prepared for overtime.
Appolon took the tip from sophomore Stephan Hawkins and dunked the ball to open overtime. Anderson swished a three-pointer on their next possession, and the Colonials were up five points in just 30 seconds.
SFC didn't fold; senior guard Ben Mockford connected from beyond the arc, and Cannon made another layup that brought the Terriers within two points of Robert Morris, 69 - 67 with just 35 seconds remaining.
A turnover by Myers-Pate, followed by an and-one layup by Cannon, gave them a one-point lead with under 13 seconds on the clock. Everyone in the building knew that Anderson was going to take the final shot; his three-point attempt went short and to the left of the basket, but Jones grabbed the rebound and laid the ball in. A heave from just over half court by junior guard Brent Jones didn't hit rim, and RMU won, 71 - 70.
When asked what Jones was thinking on his game-winning layup, he laughed, "I said please go in, please."
Cannon and Ulmer led St. Francis with 18 points each, but were limited to just three baskets each in the second half.
Anderson scored a game-high 31 points on 13-27 shooting. Myers-Pate led the team with eight assists, and Jones had a team-high eight rebounds, along with 14 points - none bigger than the last two.
It was an emotional post-game press conference. Myers-Pate was exceptionally proud of his team, "Man, it's great to have all our fans and family members here to see this on senior night, and for us to show so much togetherness...you can't ask for more, it shows that we're the ultimate family."
The Colonials clinched the NEC regular-season championship, and will have home-court advantage throughout the NEC Tournament - starts March 5th.
Anderson couldn't have pictured a better night, "To clinch the regular-season championship on senior night, in this type of game, with the kind of emotions we had going through us, I am just proud of my guys." Karvel also set the single-season Robert Morris record for most three-pointers at 95 - previous record was 93.
RMU will play Fairleigh Dickinson (10-17, 6-7) next Thursday, while SFC will look to rebound against Bryant (17-11, 9-4) on Thursday, as their still fighting to get a home game in the first round of the NEC Tournament.