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February 28, 2013
RMU clinches top spot in NEC
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With every bit of movement of his right hand, Karvel Anderson is in pain.
Every dribble, every attempt at a steal, every shot hurts.
It'll hurt less Thursday night.
Anderson led a Robert Morris comeback with 17 of his 24 points in the second half as the Colonials defeated Bryant 77-75 to claim the Northeast Conference regular season title and the top seed in the NEC Tournament.
"It was an unbelievable game," head coach Andy Toole said on his post-game radio show. "We talked at halftime about trying to dictate the tempo. I thought we wore them down a little bit. They looked a little tired at the end."
Anderson, who had surgery for a broken wrist just before his last year of junior college and had the screws taken out prior to the start of this season, somehow re-broke his wrist late in overtime against Wagner. In the immediate aftermath, his output dropped, including zero points against Quinnipiac. He's since rallied with four straight double-figure games, and no performance by Robert Morris' leading scorer was bigger than his effort Thursday night.
Robert Morris and Bryant came out firing, but Anderson started slow, hitting on just 3-of-9 shots in the first half, including 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. It was part of an overall offensive struggle that saw Robert Morris score 31 points but shoot just 33 percent. Bryant out-shot the Colonials 18-1 from the free throw line, held a 23-12 advantage on the boards, and led 37-31 at the break.
In a sense, Anderson's struggles from the floor encapsulated RMU's struggles as a team.
"I think in the first half, he was pressing a little bit. He took a couple tough ones and a couple quick ones," Toole said. "I thought he really settled down in the second half."
Anderson and Robert Morris settled down by going inside. Robert Morris shot 22 3-pointers in the first half, meaning 61 percent of their shots were from beyond the arc. RMU cut that down to 51 percent in the second half, and Anderson sparked it by driving the lane on several occasions.
"Then all of a sudden they softened up on him on the perimeter and he was able to make some shots," Toole said.
The first big shot came early, when his 3-pointer with 15:11 left in the game gave Robert Morris a 44-42 lead, its first advantage since early in the first half. Then, with Bryant making a mini-run, Anderson canned back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 54 with 8:41 remaining.
The final blow came with just 19 seconds left and the shot clock down to two seconds as Anderson nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to give Robert Morris a 74-69 lead.
"I thought it was a marvelous performance by him," Toole said.
Anderson starred, but it was an ensemble performance that enabled Robert Morris to rally from a halftime deficit for the first time this season. That was partly due to Anderson's markedly better second half, but also due to Lucky Jones finding his legs in the final 20 minutes. Jones scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, including 12 in the final 5:46.
Jones' 3-pointer with 5:46 remaining gave Robert Morris a 60-59 lead and put the Colonials in front to stay. His biggest shot came with 1:01 left, as he snared a Velton Jones miss and scored on the put-back. That came after Frankie Dobbs missed an open lay-up for Bryant, and the sequence gave RMU a 71-66 lead.
Lucky Jones also helped hold Alex Francis to eight second half points and three rebounds after the Bryant forward had 14 and 8 in the first half.
"He did as good of a job as you can do on Francis," Toole said. "That's a hard match-up for us, and he was terrific."
Robert Morris also received strong performances from point guards Velton Jones and Anthony Myers-Pate. The two combined to play 53 minutes, score 15 points, dish out 12 assists, and turn the ball over just one time.
The Colonials also received an unexpected lift from sophomore forward Keith Armstrong, who played 17 minutes because of Mike McFadden's foul trouble and provided a stronger presence inside than slim freshman Stephan Hawkins.
"I think a little bit of the environment was intimidating to Hawk, and Keith got his chance and he was excellent," Toole said. "One of the things about Keith is he's an intelligent basketball player. He understands the game, and he was tremendous."
As crucial as Robert Morris' offensive performance was in the second half, especially the efforts by Lucky Jones and Anderson, Toole ultimately credited Robert Morris' poise for the win.
"They were unbelievably terrific to coach tonight. We didn't call one timeout in the ballgame," Toole said. "Every time we had a media timeout or Bryant would use a timeout, guys were engaged, guys were focused, guys were communicating. They were talking to each other and talking about the right things. They won this game tonight."
Robert Morris wraps up the regular season at Central Connecticut State on Saturday. The Colonials will host every game in the NEC Tournament for as long as they are alive in the bracket. The first game will be March 6 against the winner of Saturday's Sacred Heart/St. Francis-Brooklyn contest.
Officials: Guy Pagano, Jeff Bryant, Tim Attanasi
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.
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