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January 19, 2012

RMU slogs to win over FDU

For the first five minutes, it looked like Robert Morris had received Andy Toole's message loud and clear. Fairleigh Dickinson couldn't make a shot against Robert Morris' defense, couldn't do anything right to stop the Colonials' offense, and found early foul trouble.

Then, for some inexplicable reason with an early lead in a road game with 35 minutes left to play, Robert Morris let its guard down. It resulted in a few nail-biting moments for RMU, especially once Fairleigh Dickinson took a lead for a bit in the second half, but still ended in a 67-55 win for Robert Morris (14-6, 5-2 Northeast).

"They have some players with some very, very good capabilities. Their size is an issue for us at times," Toole said on his post-game radio show. "You can't let your guard down. You can't let teams come back and get their footing in the ball game."

That's exactly what happened to Robert Morris. Up 10-1 with 15:03 to go in the first half, Robert Morris left Mathias Seilund open for two quick three-pointers. The Colonials' offense went cold and Fairleigh Dickinson fought to make it a 27-26 Robert Morris lead at the half.

Though the Colonials' defense had been better against Fairleigh Dickinson, the occasional breakdown dovetailed with Robert Morris' own maladies on offense. RMU had eight first half turnovers, shot just 33 percent, and missed several easy baskets underneath.

"When you're working really hard to get some of those looks we had in the first half, and you end up missing those, those are backbreakers," Toole said.

So as Fairleigh Dickinson continued to hang in the game in the second half, even leading by four with 8:44 to go in the game, Toole prodded his team to finish strong. He also switched up the defense, throwing a 2-3 zone at Fairleigh Dickinson after staying in Robert Morris' traditional man-to-man defense.

Part of the switch was to give FDU a different look, but it was also partly necessitated by a shorter bench. Russell Johnson missed his second straight game with a thumb injury and Mike McFadden went out with a cut over his left eye that needed stitches with 11:52 to go in the second half. McFadden didn't return, but the switch to the zone worked for Robert Morris. FDU shot 57 percent in the second half but made just one field goal in the final 6:16 of the game.

"I just felt that we needed to change the tempo a little bit," Toole said. "I don't always love to go to zone but that was something that definitely changed the rhythm of the game."

Three individual efforts also changed the game for Robert Morris. Velton Jones, Lucky Jones, and Lijah Thompson scored 34 of the 40 second half points for Robert Morris. Velton Jones finished with a game high 22 points, while Thompson and Lucky Jones were both strong down the stretch alongside the Colonials' captain.

"Guys made big shots, and that's what you have to do to get wins on the road sometimes," Toole said.

Thompson hit two free throws to give RMU a 53-52 lead with 5:28 to go. Robert Morris never trailed again, as Lucky Jones scored five straight points, Velton Jones added seven more, and Lucky Jones finished the game off with two free throws.

Lucky Jones had 16 points, nine rebounds, and four steals in 32 minutes in his second career start.

"I was really impressed with how he played tonight," Toole said. "That's more than a complete game for a freshman."

Though Robert Morris didn't play a complete game, they still pulled out the win. The Colonials are tied for third in the conference with St. Francis (N.Y.), a game behind Wagner and Central Connecticut State, and two behind Long Island. Robert Morris plays at Monmouth on Saturday.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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