The battle that took place in Brooklyn, New York on Tuesday night pitted the two best teams in the NEC against each other. The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers had won 11 of their last 12 games, while the Robert Morris Colonials were perhaps the hottest team in the conference - winners of their last five.
Given that, it wasn't a surprise that this game had a little bit of everything: runs by both teams, big shot after big shot, unlikely heroes, stars coming to the forefront, and clutch free throws. But not all of those elements were in play during a somewhat one-sided affair through the first 20 minutes of play.
St. Francis dominated the boards throughout the entire first half; their first two baskets off the game were a result of offensive rebounds. But despite their advantage on the glass, the Terriers failed to record a field goal from the 10:52 mark until there was 5:34 left in the half.
Robert Morris went on a 9-1 run during that span and emerged with a 23-19 lead. However, a three-pointer by freshman forward Elijah Minnie moments later would be the last field goal that the Colonials would record for the rest of the half. A 13-3 run to close the half by SFC, capped-off, by a ferocious dunk by junior guard Tyreek Jewell allowed this team to head to the locker room with a 35-29 advantage.
RMU managed just 11 rebounds in the first half, while St. Francis hauled in 26 total boards, 13 of which were on the offensive end. To make matters worse for Robert Morris, five different players tallied two first half fouls including the NEC ROY, freshman guard Marcquise Reed.
The Colonials buckled down in the second half, despite a rocky start by both teams. Six total fouls were called on both teams - 4 on the Terriers and 2 on RMU - in the first 1:27 seconds of play. With both teams trying to find their footing, junior guard Rodney Pryor struck. His back-to-back triples brought Robert Morris within one of SFC, and shifted the momentum in his teams favor.
A triple by senior guard/forward Lucky Jones gave the Colonials a 39-37 lead two possessions later, and it was St. Francis' turn to respond. Freshman guard Glenn Sanabria connected a three-pointer to end a tie at 41 between the two teams at the 12:27 mark. But another scoring drought by the Terriers allowed the Colonials to build their largest lead of the game.
This time it was Minnie's turn to play hero. He scored seven points during an 12-3 run that gave his team a 57-47 advantage and provided his team with immense energy on both ends of the floor. But just when it seemed like RMU was going to blow the game wide open, two misses from the line by Pryor turned into another triple by Jewell.
Another triple by Jewell two possessions later cut their once 10-point deficit in half. A steal by Jewell moments later led to a layup by senior point guard Brent Jones. Jones called his own number with another theft a minute later that resulted in two more points for himself and his team, 60-58 Robert Morris.
From there, it was a free throw contest over the last two minutes of play. Despite foul trouble, Reed calmly stepped to the line on a Jewell foul and knocked down both free throws. After a pair of free throws by junior forward Amdy Fall and then sophomore point guard Kavon Stewart, the game still favored the Colonials up four as the game went under 30 seconds remaining.
But Sanabrai swished a NBA range three-pointer to put his team within a possession even if RMU was able to make two subsequent makes from the charity stripe; Jones would knock them both down for Robert Morris.
After a miss from beyond the arc by sophomore guard Yunus Hopkinson, an offensive board led to a Jewell three-point attempt in which he was fouled. With a chance to tie the game at 66, Jewell missed all three free throws and despite Jones not making either of this two free throws on the other end, a half court heave by senior forward Lowell Ulmer failed to connect and the Colonials claimed the win.
They were led by a team-high 17 points by Pryor, who was also named as the MVP for the conference tournament. Minnie added 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
SFC was led by Jewell's game-high 19 points on 7-15 from the floor. Senior forward Jalen Cannon had a quiet night in the scoring column, just 10 points, but still managed to haul in a game-high 12 rebounds.
RMU will advance to play in the NCAA Tournament while St. Francis earned themselves an automatic bid in the NIT Tournament as they won the regular-season championship.