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February 23, 2012Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
Every week in practice, the Robert Morris Colonials practice end of game scenarios. Down by two with six seconds left, with the length of the court in front of them. Down by one with three seconds left, inbounding the ball from halfcourt.
You name the scenario, and Andy Toole's squad has practiced it.
It paid off Thursday night. Velton Jones hit a three-pointer in traffic at the buzzer to give Robert Morris a 55-53 win over Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The win, coupled with a St. Francis (N.Y.) loss to Monmouth, temporarily pushed Robert Morris into the third spot in the Northeast Conference. A win over Quinnipiac in Saturday's regular season finale would lock up the third seed in the NEC tournament for Robert Morris.
"Every shoot-around we finish with that play," Toole said. "We didn't run it exactly like we do in shoot-around, but Velton obviously hit a gutsy shot and that's why he's our leader."
Jones was nearly the goat. The junior point guard was at the free throw line with Robert Morris up 52-51 and 18 seconds left in the game. Sacred Heart's Shane Gibson, the league's leading scorer with a penchant for late-game dramatics, was out of the game with five fouls. But Jones missed both free throws, a rarity for him in close games, and Sacred Heart's Phil Gaetano made his own pair of free throws with 4.6 seconds left.
"That's uncharacteristic of Velton. He hasn't done that all year," Toole said on his post-game radio show. "His head was hanging in one of those time outs and I said, 'The game's not over yet. We still need to try and get a stop."
The stops were done after Gaetano's free throws. Robert Morris needed a shot. The Colonials needed to go the full-length of the court to get a chance to grab the win. Toole took a timeout to set up the final play, and he offered some encouragement to his team, including Jones.
"Guys were coming to the bench and their heads were down. There's 4.6 seconds left, it's not over yet, guys," Toole said. "As long as there's still time left on the clock, we have to figure out a way to give ourselves a chance."
Russell Johnson inbounded the ball to Jones, who turned up court on the far sideline. He collided with a Sacred Heart player as he took the pass, as they tried to draw a charge near the Pioneers' bench. Head coach Dave Bike motioned his arms like has looking for a whistle for a travel. None blew, and Jones continued on to the wing near the Robert Morris bench. With one second left on the clock, Jones launched a shot in traffic.
Nothing but net.
Jones got the shot off clean enough and early enough that the referees didn't bother with a video review. Jones led Robert Morris with 16 points, while Anthony Myers had nine points. Lucky Jones also had nine points in his first game back after missing two games with a knee injury.
The trio, led by Velton Jones, was a major factor defensively, as well. They helped shut down Gibson, who finished with just 12 points, the fewest he's scored in an NEC game all season. Gibson also struggled with foul trouble all game before bowing out with just over a minute left.
"The foul trouble definitely helped. I don't remember any real good looks that he got," Toole said. "Even from the three-point line, I don't think we ever gave him a great look, and that's what we were trying to do."
Robert Morris didn't get many good looks, either. After a hot start against Sacred Heart's 2-3 zone, the Colonials went cold from the floor. Robert Morris built an early lead on 3-pointers and jumpers, but as Sacred Heart eliminated the RMU big men from the equation, the shots dried up.
"Early in the game, we made some 3s against them and I thought they were going to come out a little bit more than they did," Toole said. "But they were playing the percentage and saying that we wouldn't be able to shoot the ball the way we did the entire night, and we didn't."
Tied at 25 at the half, it stayed a one-possession game for most of the second half. Myers hit a trey to give Robert Morris a 45-40 lead with 8:35 left, but that would be the largest lead RMU would have the rest of the way. Nick Greenbacker scored on a lay-up for Sacred Heart with 6:55 to go to cut RMU's lead to 47-44. That would serve as the last basket by either team for the rest of the game, as all the points came on free throws until Jones hit his 3-pointer.
Robert Morris will tip at Quinnipaic on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. Depending on results, that game could be a preview of a first round NEC Tournament match-up on Thursday, March 1.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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