For the third straight game, the Robert Morris Colonials trailed by double-digits in the second half. They trailed by 16 against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds last Thursday, and trailed the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers by 12 on Saturday. Tonight, against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, they were down by as many as 15 points before they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
A big reason why Robert Morris was down late was because sophomore forward Stephan Hawkins was in street clothes. He gutted out 31 invaluable minutes last Saturday that helped RMU clinch the NEC regular-season championship. However, the Colonials have loftier goals in mind, and chose to rest Hawkins due to an ankle injury.
With Hawkins on the bench, Fairleigh Dickinson leveraged their size advantage early in the contest, particularly senior forward Scooter Gillette. His two early dunks help power FDU to an early lead. Head coach Andy Toole knew Gillette would be a factor in the game. On his post-game radio show he said, "He's got such great size, and they do a good job of trying to get him the ball."
Senior guard Karvel Anderson did everything in his power to not allow the game to get away from Robert Morris in the first half. He scored 17 of RMU's 21 points from the 16:32 mark until there were just six minutes remaining; they led, 25-24.
Anderson couldn't prevent his team from relinquishing the lead, however. The Knights went on a 15-4 run to close the half, and took a nine-point advantage as they headed to the locker room, 39-30.
The Colonials shot just 10-33 (30.3%) from the field in the first half, while Fairleigh Dickinson was 13-30 (43.3%). FDU also was 7-16 on three-pointers.
Senior point guard Anthony Myers-Pate single-handedly sparked a 9-2 run to open the second half that brought Robert Morris within two points of the Knights. However, All-NEC point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. scored or assisted on the next 14 points for Fairleigh Dickinson, which saw them extend their lead to double-digits, 57-47 at the 9:29 mark.
After five consecutive makes from the charity stripe, FDU had their largest lead of the game at 15, and for a second, it looked like RMU might fold. Myers-Pate would have none of it. His triple from the left corner started an 18-2 run that ended with his team claiming a one-point advantage, 65-64 with just 1:25 remaining.
Junior guard David Appolon was impressive on both ends of the floor with his activity. His putback after an offensive rebound brought his team within one point of the Knights. He followed that up by stealing the inbounds pass and laying the ball in to give the Colonials the lead.
Not to be outdone, junior guard/forward Lucky Jones had two blocks down the stretch for Robert Morris that kept them within striking distance.
RMU never relinquished the lead after Appolon's layup. Anderson snagged a key offensive rebound with 33 seconds left, was fouled, and sank both free throws that sealed the victory for the Colonials, 69-64.
Fairleigh Dickinson had four players reach double-figures led by Gillette's team-high 14 points. Sanders Jr. had 11 points, but was only 5-15 from the floor, and 0-4 on triples.
Anderson had a game-high 22 points on 7-16 shooting, and is now one-point shy of reaching 1,000 for his two-year career at Robert Morris. Jones had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Toole attributed his team’s defense as to why they were able to get back into the game, "That's a way we can defend all the time I think. I think when we're locked-in and engaged we can defend for longer periods of time than we did tonight."
He was particularly pleased with how his team defended the three-point line in the second half, "I think a key stat for us is in the second half was that they went 1-12 from three."
When asked if coming back from double-digits to win games has become his team's M.O., Toole responded, "It's not the preferred recipe for success; however, we've been fortunate these last couple."
Toole's team is now 9-1 with eight players and 1-0 with just seven. When asked about the difficulties of having only seven players, he chuckled, "Just add it to all the other challenges I guess."
RMU will play at the Wagner Seahawks (17-11, 11-4) on Saturday to conclude NEC play. FDU will face the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (17-13, 8-7) in a game that carries a lot of implications in terms of seeding for the upcoming NEC Tournament.