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February 16, 2013Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
For 37 minutes, Robert Morris played perhaps its best defensive performance of the season.
Those last three minutes, though, provided a white-knuckle finish that surely threatened to turn a few hairs on Andy Toole's head prematurely gray. Robert Morris bottled up Sacred Heart's Shane Gibson for the majority of the game, then endured a frantic Pioneers comeback to win 68-63.
"I hope we can build on this because now we've built big leads in our last three games. And I'm going to tell our guys, we've closed two of the three of them out. Yeah, one was in overtime, tonight's wasn't exactly a work of art," Toole said on his post-game radio show. "But these are all things that we grow from and learn from."
The win, coupled with Bryant's loss to Wagner, pushed Robert Morris into a tie for first place in the Northeast Conference with LIU-Brooklyn. Both are 10-4 in conference play, though RMU has the tiebreaker. Bryant is a half game back at 9-4, while Wagner is 9-5.
Robert Morris did it without Velton Jones, who sat out the game nursing his bad shoulder after playing Thursday night. Even without their senior leader, the Colonials used a similar recipe to beat Sacred Heart in Connecticut that they used back in January to beat the Pioneers at the Sewall Center. Without Jones, Robert Morris leaned on Anthony Myers-Pate to direct the offense for large portions of the game. Myers-Pate played 33 minutes, scored 11 points, and earned praise for his defensive performance from Toole.
"Ant Myers not only played 33 minutes handling the ball and trying to get us into offense and create offense, he was the main guy guarding Shane Gibson," Toole said. "What a gutty effort by him."
Gibson averages 20 points per game, but he had just two points at halftime as RMU led 30-27. Gibson finished with 17, including 11 points in a frantic final 3:27.
"That's what's so scary about him," Toole said. "And a couple of them were just defensive breakdowns. He's too good of a shooter to leave wide open like that."
Until those final three minutes, Robert Morris was in control for much of the game. The Colonials staked themselves to a 7-0 lead and held a 14-point advantage in the first half before going into the break only up three. They quickly built the lead back into double digits in the second half and led 64-48 with 3:49 to go.
Then the roof caved in. The two teams combined for 46 fouls and 68 free throw attempts, including 41 for Sacred Heart. Whether it was the fact that Robert Morris had multiple players with four fouls or the notion that they had it wrapped up, Sacred Heart began to use the situation to their advantage. They picked up four points from the free throw line, and Gibson did the rest, scoring 11 of the teams final 13 points with three 3-pointers and a lay-up.
Down 65-63, Sacred Heart had a chance to tie or take the lead after Karvel Anderson missed a jumper with the shot clock expiring. But Steve Glowiak couldn't hit, Lucky Jones made one of two free throws, and RMU wisely fouled Phil Gaetano up three with six seconds left. Gaetano missed the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but Russell Johnson came up with the ball and iced the game with two free throws.
"The last opportunity they had to take the lead when it was 65-63, that was not a comfortable position for me coaching down at the other end of the floor," Toole said.
Along with Myers-Pate's 11 points, Robert Morris got ten points each from Lucky Jones and Mike McFadden. Karvel Anderson ended a three-half scoring drought to score all 13 of his team-high 13 points in the second half. Robert Morris was also 23-of-27 from the free throw line.
"That's what we needed," Toole said. "We need a total team effort every time we step onto the floor."
Robert Morris returns home for the final two regular season home games of the year, with a Thursday night game against Monmouth and a senior night contest against Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday.
Officials: Tom Courtney, Thomas Regan, Gary Duda
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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