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March 9, 2013Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
History repeats itself, or so we're told.
Those in the Robert Morris men's basketball program have to believe it does, for it did Saturday afternoon.
Seeded at the top of the Northeast Conference and a favorite to advance to an unprecedented fifth straight NEC title game, Robert Morris fell to an old nemesis.
Fifth-seeded Mount St. Mary's, the villain of Robert Morris' yesteryears, stunned Robert Morris 69-60 and ended Robert Morris' NCAA Tournament hopes. The Colonials will have to settle for an automatic bid to the NIT.
"Not a great time to play one of your worst games of the season," head coach Andy Toole said. "They were the team that stayed truer to their formula than we did tonight."
Five years ago, the story was the same, though the cast of characters have changed. Mount St. Mary's and Robert Morris waged multiple tournament battles from 2007 to 2009. Robert Morris knocked off the Mount on a Jeremy Chappell 3-pointer to win in the quarterfinals in 2007 and used Dallas Green's last second jumper to win the NEC title in 2009. But in between those RMU victories was a sour note for Robert Morris, an 83-65 shellacking by the Mount in the semifinal during Mike Rice's first year.
Robert Morris was the top seed then, a heavy favorite, and laden with experience. Instead, they went to the NIT. Five years later, Robert Morris is bound for the lesser tournament once again.
Toole had an inkling Robert Morris was in for a war from the opening tip.
"First play of the game, simple stagger, Lucky (Jones) is three steps behind and (Rashad) Whack makes a three," Toole said. "Unfortunately, I knew from that point on it'd be an uphill battle."
The first half was vintage Robert Morris-Mount St. Mary's. Before the rivalry died out because of changes at the Mount, the series was marked by its defensive intensity. Every bucket was a battle. The first 20 minutes played out that way on Saturday. Mount St. Mary's led 29-23 at the half, and though Robert Morris entered the game just 1-9 when trailing at the break, the game was within reach.
But it wasn't for long. Robert Morris scored just six points in the first 10:55 of the second half and suddenly trailed 47-29. That included a two minute stretch where Robert Morris missed two 3-pointers and a jumper, failing to cut what was a 36-29 Mount lead down to two possessions.
"I think we took a couple shots from Monroeville, and then wondered why they were getting run-out dunks on the other end," Toole said. "That's the beauty of the style they play."
Robert Morris's offensive woes exacerbated the problem. Coron Williams and Karvel Anderson went a combined 0-for-5 from three-point range. Meanwhile, Velton Jones was a meager 2-for-17 from the floor, had four turnovers to just one assist, and never looked comfortable.
"I don't know. I just couldn't make a shot," Jones said. "I've been trying to figure that out throughout the game."
Bothered by a shoulder injury the last month of the season, Jones appeared to be in pain for much the game. He winced and rubbed his shoulder after being subbed out just two minutes into the game, then had a violent collision with Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian, who took the brunt of the blow when Jones tried to pick off a pass and corral it down the sideline.
If he wasn't in a ton of pain by that point, Jones certainly was as Robert Morris tried to rally. With under five minutes left and RMU pressing, Jones dove for a pass and tipped it to Anthony Myers-Pate, who knocked down the 3-pointer. But Jones slammed his shoulder into Whack and stayed on the floor for several minutes in severe pain.
Jones would later return, but he was never effective. Robert Morris cut what was a 16-point deficit down to six with 1:03 left. But the Colonials weren't able to string stops together. Even if they did, the offense was disjointed enough that good looks were difficult to find.
"We were rushing. We weren't playing the way we were supposed to play," Russell Johnson said.
"It was our poor shot selection. They did a great job of pressuring the ball," Toole added. "They made it difficult at times to enter the ball into the wing, so we succumbed to the pressure and took poor shots."
Robert Morris finished just 34 percent from the field, including a paltry 26 percent from 3-point range. It was Robert Morris' worst overall shooting performance since season opening losses to Rider and Lehigh.
"Not only were we having trouble getting good looks from three, but it wasn't like we were getting to the rim and getting wide open looks either," Toole said. "They did a great job of taking away our strengths, and we didn't do a very good job counteracting that."
Robert Morris will find out who it plays in the NIT next Sunday. Until then, they'll try to process a disappointing finish to a promising season.
I don't know. I'm still upset about this loss," Johnson said. "I'm really not thinking that way right now."
Officials: Donnie Eppley, Brandon Cruz, Tom Fahey
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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