The Belmont Bruins have won over 96 percent of their home games over the last four seasons, and they fed off the crowd at the Curb Event Center on Friday night. They added to their home winning percent with their 82 - 71 victory over the Robert Morris Colonials in front of a loud and rambunctious home crowd.
Robert Morris got off to a hot start, as they led 11 - 5 after senior guard Karvel Anderson drilled his second three-pointer of the game just two minutes into the contest. Then the turnovers started. RMU turned the ball over during their next five trips down the floor until a layup by junior guard/forward Lucky Jones.
However, they turned the ball over on three of their next four possessions, the other was a missed layup by junior guard Charles Oliver, and it allowed Belmont to take the lead.
It was a 9-0 run that featured two dunks and two layups. The Colonials opted not to use a timeout to stem the bleeding.
Robert Morris regained their composure, and went on a 12-0 run that featured triples by Jones and Anderson, and was capped-off by a long two-pointer by sophomore forward Stephan Hawkins. Then the OVC Player of the Year, JJ Mann, decided it was time to put his mark on the game.
He connected on back-to-back triples that tied the game at 25, and added a layup shortly after, that allowed the Bruins to take a 27 - 25 lead into the under-eight media timeout.
Belmont scored the next nine points coming out of the timeout, and never let off the gas. Mann hit another triple at the 2:14 mark, and sophomore guard Craig Bradshaw banked in a three-pointer that gave them a nine-point advantage. It proved to be the final basket before the half, 44 - 35.
A rested RMU squad was able to limit the Bruins to just one basket going into the first media timeout of the second half. A Jones jumper just before the timeout brought the Colonials within six of Belmont, 47 - 41.
However, a 12-3 run by the Bruins going into the next media timeout gave them a 15-point lead, and Robert Morris never got within single-digits after that. RMU tried extending the game late by fouling, but Belmont made 13 of 14 free throws over the last three minutes of the contest, and it never allowed the Colonials to get within striking distance.
Anderson led Robert Morris with 23 points on 7-14 shooting, including 4-8 from beyond the arc. Jones scored 15 points on 6-17 from the field, and pulled down nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Aaron Tate had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Mann was spectacular for the Bruins. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 7-17 from the field. He added six rebounds, two assists, and three steals as well. Senior forward Drew Windler dropped 18 points on 6-12 shooting, and Bradshaw finished the game with 17 points on 5-11 shooting, and had a game-high five assists.
With only seven active players, it was hard for RMU to keep up with a Belmont team that got in transition after every missed shot. They used ball reversal and ran players all over the court on the offensive end, which tired the Colonials.
For Robert Morris, the careers of Anderson and senior point guard Anthony Myers-Pate came to an end. Anderson reflected on the season in the post-game press conference, "It was a crazy ride. We overcame a lot of adversity, and I wouldn't trade it or anything...I'm going to miss this team."
Despite all the turnovers, RMU head coach Andy Toole was proud of his team, "Our guys gave everything they could. It wasn't anything less than a high-level effort."
The Bruins advanced to the third round of the NIT, and will await the winner between Illinois and Clemson on Sunday.