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February 8, 2012

RMU offense carries Colonials to 78-74 win

The problems are still there on defense. When a team shoots 61.5 percent - and was up to 80 percent late in the first half - then there are still some unresolved issues with Robert Morris' defense.

But maybe, just maybe, Robert Morris is finding its offensive rhythm. Lucky Jones and Mike McFadden each scored 14 points as Robert Morris shot above 50 percent from the floor for the second straight game in a 78-74 win over St. Francis (Pa.) in Loretto.

In a series that has traditionally featured hot shooting since the Northeast Conference installed it as part of Rivalry Week, Robert Morris took some time to get started. St. Francis slowly built up an 11-point first half lead by shooting 80 percent from the field on high efficiency shots.

But just like last week, Robert Morris whittled the 35-24 deficit down to just five at the half before taking the lead for good in the minutes after the break.

Where last week it was Anthony Myers sparking the Colonials with inspired defense and smart moves on offense, this time it was Russell Johnson. Still hobbled after missing the game Saturday with an ankle injury, Johnson entered with 16:31 to go in the second half having done very little for the Colonials to that point.

But there was Johnson dishing off inside to Lawrence Bridges to give Robert Morris its first lead since midway through the first half. There was Johnson stripping Stephon Whyatt and feeding Lucky Jones for two more. And there was Johnson grabbing a defensive rebound of the game, running the floor, and finishing off on a pass from Myers.

By the time Johnson checked out nearly six minutes later, Robert Morris led 56-46, capping a 17-6 lead with Johnson on the floor. He finished with six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench, and in a sign of Andy Toole's appreciation of Johnson's efforts, was on the floor in the crucial final minutes.

Robert Morris led by as many as 11 with 6:30 to go, but St. Francis clawed back when Whyatt hit a 3-pointer to make it 70-66 with 2:58 to go. Scott Eatherton, St. Francis' leading scorer but held to just 10 points Wednesday, cut the lead to 72-70 with 1:25 to go.

But Johnson had one last move, scoring on a lay-up on a dish from Velton Jones to stem the tide. Jones and Coron Williams both sank free throws down the stretch and Robert Morris held on for the win.

Robert Morris shot 63 percent in the second half and finished at 56 percent for the game. St. Francis dipped down 55 percent in the second half, finishing at 61.5 percent. More important the percentage for Robert Morris was the ball-sharing. The Colonials had 23 assists on 28 made field goals, led by Velton Jones' eight assists. Robert Morris also had just 12 turnovers, including only four in the second half.

Velton Jones had just eight points, but played 32 minutes despite playing with a mask on his face to protect a recently injured nose.

Robert Morris improved to 18-8, 9-4 in the NEC. With Central Connecticut State's loss, the Colonials have a two game lead on the Blue Devils and Quinnipiac for the fourth spot in the conference. They're one game behind St. Francis (N.Y.) for third and two behind Wagner for second.

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

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