BROOKLYN — From the opening moments, it was clear that Robert Morris would present more of a challenge than your typical No. 7 seed in an eight-team tournament. Matty McConnell scored the first nine points of the game on three threes to set the tone for an upset-minded Colonial team.
Ultimately, however, it was Kavon Stewart who played the hero. His floater with three seconds to go lifted Robert Morris to a 69-68 upset win at No. 2 seed LIU Brooklyn in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.
As unlikely an ending as it was, it was one that both sides had seen before. Stewart’s game-winning floater was oddly reminiscent of Velton Jones’ 2013 game-winner over LIU in the same building. Jones, naturally, was there on Wednesday to cheer on his alma mater.
“That’s my man,” Stewart said. “I saw him in the crowd. He was here when we made that NCAA Tournament run and he was always on me.”
This time, the stakes were higher, and the Colonials had every chance to wilt under the pressure. Despite racing out to that nine-point lead, the Blackbirds fought back to take a one-point lead into halftime. They held onto that lead for much of the second half as well and stretched it to as many as nine with 9:14 to play on a Jashaun Augusto layup.
But thanks to a couple of timely threes from Lorenzen Wright, Robert Morris stayed close. McConnell hit another huge triple with 4:19 to play that put the Colonials ahead, and it was back-and-forth the rest of the way.
Raquan Clark hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to put LIU up one, setting up Stewart’s late heroics.
At the top of the key, Stewart took a screen from McConnell, and LIU switched, putting big man Jerome Frink on Stewart. The senior guard took advantage.
“The play had a number of options to it and our guys understand those options, especially based on the different defenses they might see,” Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said. “Once we got that mismatch and the time was running down, Kavon knows to attack a big’s feet and see what happens.”
With three seconds left, the Blackbirds had one more shot. Frink caught the inbounds pass, but hesitated, waiting for a guard to come help. Thanks to Robert Morris’s pressure, that never happened. By the time he was able to take a couple steps up the floor and set himself to shoot, the clock had already expired.
Robert Morris advances to face top seed Mount St. Mary’s in the semifinals, while LIU must now decide whether it wants to accept a potential CBI or CIT bid. Blackbirds coach Jack Perri said the team could consider it and Frink indicated he would want to play if invited.
Mount St. Mary’s 76 Sacred Heart 73
Junior Robinson scored 22 points on 7-16 shooting and Elijah Long added 19 more, playing the entire game, to lift Mount St. Mary’s to a close win over eighth-seeded Sacred Heart. De’Von Barnett had 18 for the Pioneers, including a layup with 5:18 to play that gave the lowest seed in the NEC Tournament a one-point lead over the conference regular season champion. Robinson gave the Mountaineers the lead for good, however, on a three with 2:10 left, and Sacred Heart could not get a key stop down the stretch.
St. Francis PA 100 Bryant 78
The Red Flash scored 100 points against a Division I opponent for the first time this year and ran away from the Bulldogs at home. Keith Braxton came dangerously close to a triple-double, pouring on 22 points to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists. Isaiah Blackmon had a game-high 24, as Bryant simply did not have the firepower to keep up. The Bulldogs were just 8-31 from three and allowed the Red Flash to shoot 61 percent from the field. The 28-point margin was St. Francis’s most lopsided win since Nov. 19.
Wagner 72 Fairleigh Dickinson 70
The Seahawks opened the game on a 16-4 run and held off the defending conference champions behind 32 points from Michael Carey. It was the second thriller between the two teams at Spiro Sports Center this year; the Knights picked up a two-point road win on Jan. 5. Stephan Jiggetts had 22 points to pace four FDU players in double figures, while Darian Anderson had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. JoJo Cooper’s layup for Wagner with 1:41 to play ended up being the final points of the game as the Knights went 0-3 with a turnover on their final four possessions.
St. Francis heads to Staten Island to face Wagner in the first semifinal game on Saturday at noon. In the other semifinal, Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s tip at 2 PM ET in Emmitsburg.