The Robert Morris Colonials survived an intense game against the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash inside the Sewall Center on Saturday afternoon. Robert Morris has now beaten St. Francis 14 straight times, but number 14 didn't come easy, despite their early success on the defensive end of the floor.
The aggressive 2-3 zone of RMU stifled the SFU offense for the first six minutes of the game, yielding just two points. The Colonials made a concerted effort to take away passes from the high post into the short-corner. Junior guard/forward Lucky Jones said head coach Andy Toole challenged him to step up, "(he said) just make sure you run down there and be athletic enough to get a hand in there and get a steal, and make it hard for them."
The Red Flash turned to the perimeter to get back into the game; they made four triples from the 13:31 mark to the 9:44 mark that allowed them to take a 14-6 advantage. Robert Morris went ice-cold on the offensive end during that stretch; they were unable to make a basket for over nine minutes until a layup by Jones ended the drought.
A layup by junior forward Earl Brown gave St. Francis their 20th point of the half, but two jumpers by Jones down the stretch brought RMU within five points by halftime; SFU led, 20-15.
To say that both teams struggled in the first half on the offensive end would be an understatement: the Colonials shot 7-28 (25%) from the field, while the Red Flash went just 8-26 (30.8%). Both teams also had more turnovers than assists.
For the second straight game, senior guard Karvel Anderson went scoreless in the first half. St. Francis sophomore guard Greg Brown did a very good job denying him the ball, and not giving him an inch coming off screens. Anderson was blunt when asked about the first half, "We played a terrible first half."
He wasn't about to remain quiet for another 20 minutes; he opened the second half attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. His four consecutive free throws on his team’s first two possessions helped spark a 15-2 run, capped-off by a 17-foot jumper on the baseline by sophomore forward Stephan Hawkins.
After the game, Anderson said the free throws helped him find his rhythm, "To see the ball actually go through the hoop for the first time in the tournament did a lot for me mentally, and helped me loosen up a little bit."
SFU reversed their strategy on the offensive end, and established Brown in the paint. He scored seven straight points for the Red Flash that cut the Robert Morris lead to just eight points at the 4:48 mark. Back-to-back triples by freshman point guard, and rookie of the year (NEC), Malik Harmon, cut the deficit to just four with 3:34 remaining.
It was sophomore forward Ronnie Drinnon's turn after that: he was fouled going for an offensive rebound, made both free throws, and then stole a pass at the top of the circle that he took the distance for an easy dunk.
The crowd rose to their feet for the final two minutes of the game, and Anderson rose to the occasion. He hit a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow that gave RMU a three-point lead, 57-54. Free throws by sophomore guard Ben Millaud-Meunier cut the Colonials’ lead to just one.
However, junior guard David Appolon made three of four free throws in the waning seconds on the game, and also disrupted St. Francis’ final play, which resulted in a 35-foot attempt by Harmin that came up short as Robert Morris won a close one, 60-57.
SFU was led by Brown's 18 points on 5-9 from the field, and 8-11 from the charity stripe. Millaud-Meunier had 15 points on 4-13 shooting, and was 2-10 from beyond the arc.
Anderson had a game-high 21 points for RMU on 4-10 from the floor, and a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line. Jones added 18 points on 7-15 shooting.
Toole described the game as 'interesting' but was focused on the end result, "The goal of this time of year is to continue your season, and that's exactly what we did."
The Colonials will play the fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers on Tuesday night at 7pm on ESPN2 for the NEC Championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Senior point guard Anthony Myers-Pate couldn't envision it any differently, "It's wonderful. I think we have some hostility between us two, they put us out last year, so we're going to go into this game with a chip on our shoulder."