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RMU Colonials Start NEC Tournament With Victory Over Fairleigh Dickinson, 60-53

The Robert Morris Colonials (20-12, 14-2) shook some early jitters to defeat the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (10-21, 6-10) in the opening round of the NEC Tournament on Wednesday night.

Andrew Wisneski

I am sure if you told head coach Andy Toole that his team would win an NEC Tournament game without senior guard Karvel Anderson, the NEC POY, scoring a single point, he may have thought you were joking.  After the game Toole said, "He (Anderson) wasn't feeling well, so he wasn't being very effective out there."  Apparently, Toole wasn't aware of Anderson's condition until the game had started.

In the wake of Anderson’s sickness, junior guard/forward Lucky Jones picked up the slack; he swished his first bucket of the game.  However, the early part of the game was marred by sloppy play, and by the first media timeout, the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights were leading by a score of just 6-4.

Despite the slow start, it was clear what Fairleigh Dickinson was trying to do on the offensive end of the floor.  Senior forwards Mathias Seilund and Scooter Gillette worked really nicely together out of the high post and low block, respectively.  Seilund said, "It's something we've been working on the last week or so." and Gillette added, "That's the best we connected, even better than practice."

The Robert Morris Colonials loosened up as the first half unfolded, and a two-point jumper by Jones at the 10:06 mark gave them the lead again.  However, no team was able to separate over the last 10 minutes of the first half, and when the buzzer sounded, RMU led by just two points, 26-24.

Both teams started the second half more relaxed.  The Colonials went on small runs, but were never able to create more than an eight point advantage through the first nine minutes.  Point guard Sidney Sanders Jr., the NEC's Most Improved Player, began asserting himself for FDU, as to not allow his last game to be decided by someone else.

His free throw at the 8:02 mark cut the Robert Morris lead to just five points.  Jones drained another triple on their next possession to push their lead back to eight.

The Knights didn't make a field goal for the next five minutes, until a dunk by Gillette ended the drought.  However, free throws kept them in the game, and RMU only scored two points during that same span.

A coast-to-coast layup by junior guard David Appolon gave the Colonials their first double-digit lead of the game with just 1:01 remaining.  Despite Sanders Jr. scoring seven points in the last minute of the game, it wasn't enough to overcome the deficit.  Robert Morris made six consecutive free throws down the stretch to claim a 60-53 victory.

Sanders Jr. led Fairleigh Dickinson with 16 points on 6-16 shooting.  Seilund had his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.  Gillette contributed five rebounds to go along with his 15 points.  However, their bench was outscored 2-15, and went a combined 1-8 from the floor.

Jones led RMU with a game-high 19 points, on 7-13 shooting; he also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.  Point guard Anthony Myers-Pate was the only other Colonial to reach double-figures; he had 10 points on 2-6 from the field.  Anderson was held scoreless for the first time this season, 0-3 from the field - his previous low was eight points.

Myers-Pate was confident that Anderson will bounce back, "I have confidence going into the next game cause I know that he's going to come with some fire, and it's not going to be pretty for our opponents."

Toole was proud of his team's victory despite Anderson's struggles shooting the ball, "We've found a variety of ways to win this year, which I think is important if you're going to have opportunities to compete for a regular-season championship, and obviously advance in the conference tournament, because no two games are going to be the same."

FDU head coach Greg Herenda was proud of his team's effort despite the loss, "The last time we were in this building we lost by 43 points, and tonight we expected to win."  Sanders Jr. didn't feel like Robert Morris did anything special against him, but respected his opponent’s effort, "The credit goes out to Robert Morris.  They played their butts off."

Top-seeded RMU will host the sixth-seed, St. Francis (PA) Red Flash, on Saturday at 2pm in the NEC Tournament semifinals.  The Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (four-seed) will travel to play the Wagner Seahawks (two-seed) in the other semifinal matchup.