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January 25, 2014
RMU tops Wagner for emotional win
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There are certain games that bring out the emotion in even the most stoic of players.
Robert Morris' tussle on Saturday against Wagner was one of those events.
From university president Gregory Dell'Omo pleading for a goaltending call and exhorting the fan base in the waning moments, to Karvel Anderson's permanent scowl in the midst of a personal 8-point outburst, to the roller-coaster sighs and yelps from a crowd on the edge of its seat, the game between two Northeast Conference powers had it all.
It ended with a first for Robert Morris. RMU topped Wagner 74-70 to improve to 6-0 in the Northeast Conference for the first time in school history.
"First and foremost, I thought that was a really good college basketball game," head coach Andrew Toole said. "The emotion, the intensity that was in the game was terrific. Our guys in the last seven minutes or so were talking about how fun it was to be out there and competing."
With Robert Morris still missing six players, four of them due to a suspension formally handed down Friday, the Colonials went with eight players against a deep Wagner team. Both teams had been struggling with consistency throughout the season, but they were at their best Saturday afternoon. Wagner pounded the ball inside, trying to use the height of Naofall Folahan and Mario Moody to their advantage. Robert Morris countered with patient ball movement to create open shots, as well as fearless charges to challenge those trees inside.
"This one meant a lot to us. Coming in, they were the preseason favorites to be No. 1 and win the league. It was a good statement for us.
And with the bench short, Robert Morris needed and received contributions from everyone. But it was the trio of leaders who led the charge. Lucky Jones struggled through a rough shooting night, but hit a handful of momentum-sparking shots, grabbed eight rebounds and played stout defense. Anthony Myers-Pate had one of his most aggressive shooting nights and finished with 12 points, including two clutch 3-pointers. And leading scorer Anderson pumped in 21 points, fighting through stiff defense to come up with a series of clutch shots.
"It's very tiring. It's frustrating. But you have to stay composed," Anderson said.
Robert Morris led Wagner 33-31 at the break, but an opening volley on the backs of a 14-5 run gave the Seahawks a 45-38 lead with 15 minutes to go. Robert Morris countered with its own mini-run, including an old-fashioned 3-point play from Stephan Hawkins and a transition 3-pointer from Anderson. The chase was on, and it was nip and tuck the rest of the way. For every Robert Morris run, Wagner had an answer. Latif Rivers had 19 points, including a couple clutch 3-pointers in the second half. Folahan was difficult to handle inside with RMU's short bench, but Aaron Tate responded with a season high nine rebounds.
"Some of the things that I thought would occur, have occurred," Toole said. "Guys are stepping up and rallying together."
The game swung back and forth until the end. Myers-Pate drained a 3-pointer to give Robert Morris a 66-62 lead with 3:46 left. The teams exchanged free throws for the next three minutes until Kenneth Ortiz nearly sparked a Wagner comeback. He hit a jumper to cut Wagner's deficit to 69-67 with 22 seconds left, but Anderson countered with two more free throws.
Then Ortiz fed Marcus Burton for a 3-pointer, and suddenly it was just a 71-70 Robert Morris lead. That's when two unlikely suspects stepped up at the free throw line for RMU. Freshman point guard Kavon Stewart, playing on his birthday, knocked down both of his shots with 13 seconds left.
"He hasn't been a very confident, consistent free throw shooter. But you saw today he just played free," Anderson said. "He even told us before he walked to the line that he was going to make them. You don't hear that out of him much."
After Ortiz missed a 3-pointer, sophomore forward Aaron Tate grabbed the rebound and stepped to the line with five seconds left.
"I'm not going to lie. I was nervous," Tate said. "That was my first time I was in a position like that, shooting big free throws like that. I'm just glad that second one bounced in and gave us a four-point lead."
Tate missed the first, but the second hit the front of the rim, bounced up to the top of the backboard, and skittered off the glass and in. It left Wagner with no chance to respond and sealed the win.
"After the first one, I didn't know what the second one was going to look like," Toole said. "As crazy as it sounds, we preach to our guys all the time about basketball gods. If you respect the game, if you do the right things, if you give the proper amount of effort, you give yourself the best chance to be successful.
"I'm not the most religious person, but I believe in the basketball gods. They might have been with us on that occasion just because of the effort and respect that our guys gave over a 40 minute period."
Officials: Guy Pagano, Tom Courtney, Steve Ruppenthal
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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