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February 23, 2013Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
What began as a typical pregame tip of the cap to Robert Morris' senior class quickly turned into a game long celebration.
Walk-ons Treadwell Lewis and Shane Sweigart deservedly earned their first career starts as part of senior night, then fellow seniors Velton Jones and Russell Johnson helped light up Fairleigh Dickinson.
Jones scored 20 points in his return to the lineup, while Johnson had 10 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists as RMU routed Fairleigh Dickinson 89-46. The win clinched at least one home game in Northeast Conference tournament for Robert Morris and kept the Colonials in first place by 1.5 games.
"I thought it was a terrific all-around effort and I thought our guys handled the emotion of senior night really well," head coach Andy Toole said. "I thought it was a great send off for our seniors."
Robert Morris got a balanced effort against an FDU group that appeared to mostly be going through the motions. Mike McFadden scored 15 points on perfect shooting while Karvel Anderson had 11, but the stars were the seniors.
It began from the opening tip, when Sweigart and Lewis earned their first career starts as they took the court alongside Johnson and Jones. Toole had been quiet about whether the two walk-ons would start all week, but said he came to the decision several days ago. Discussions with Jones and Johnson about starting the two walk-ons helped reinforce his decision.
"Both of those guys were unanimous in their support for it, and I think I made up my mind either Tuesday or Wednesday," Toole said. "I think both of those guys earned it. It wasn't a hard decision because both of those guys have earned it."
Fittingly, Lewis scored the first points of the game, as he took a feed from Johnson after the tip and was fouled going for a lay-up. The play caught Fairleigh Dickinson off guard and had the Sewall Center buzzing.
"It felt good," Lewis said. "A sigh of relief there a little bit. It felt good to knock one down and get on the boards there a little bit."
"I thought I was watching Rudy. It was surreal," Toole added. "I said to somebody on the bench, 'He's going to make these two free throws and everyone's going to ask me why he's not playing more."
Lewis only made one, and he and Sweigart were subbed out after 1:23 on the court.
"I was trying to go about a minute and half or two minutes, get them an opportunity to go up and down and get into the flow of the game but, to continue with the most important thing and that was getting the victory," Toole said.
That's when Johnson and Jones took over. Jones surprisingly played 19 minutes, and he showed that his injured shoulder wasn't hampering his efforts nearly as much as it was last week. Jones sat out against Sacred Heart on Saturday and Monmouth on Thursday, and after a 6-of-9 shooting performance Saturday night, said he's getting healthier.
"I wasn't going to miss this at all," Jones said. "I wouldn't say it's completely healed, but it's getting better. Just trying to take it day by day, rehab and do whatever I have to do to get it 100 percent."
Toole wasn't going to let Jones make just a cameo appearance. Either he was going to play and do most of the things expected of him, or he was going to sit and only be honored prior to the game.
"If you're going to go, you're going to go. It's not a situation where you're straddling the fence," Toole said. "We'll see how he feels Monday, but my hope is that we get him more involved in practice this week. Even early in the game, he looked a little rusty, maybe with the speed or some of the ball-handling."
The game was never in doubt, and as the first half progressed, FDU wilted. Kinu Rochford, the Knights' leading scorer and rebounder, appeared to walk-off the court late in the first half and pull his jersey off. He didn't return and the Knights were content to launch contested shots for most of the second half.
Robert Morris, meanwhile, could turn its focus to sending Jones and Johnson out properly. The two exited to a standing ovation with about four minutes left, and Lewis and Sweigart took the court again. The two combined for nine shots in the final minutes as the crowd encouraged them to shoot freely, but neither could get on the board.
"I wish they had made a shot. I'd have been a lot more excited," Johnson quipped. "But it's great. We were trying to do it for them, get them in the game, and let them do what they do."
With senior night over, Robert Morris is hoping it can now take care of the rest of its business. The Colonials will travel to Bryant and Central Connecticut State to wrap up the regular season, the two teams that forced RMU to start the year 0-2. The Thursday night game against Bryant will likely be for the NEC regular season crown.
"They're an extremely efficient offense," Toole said. "We have to make sure that we have a good week of preparation, a focused week of preparation, go up there, and play the best we can."
Officials: Jeff Plunkett, Chris Jennings, Darren Moran
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.
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