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February 18, 2012

RMU secures home game with win over CCSU

MOON TWP. - For the first 28 minutes and 58 seconds of Saturday's game against Central Connecticut State, Robert Morris didn't register a single point from its guards.

One minute and 47 seconds later, that all changed. Coron Williams, Anthony Myers, and Velton Jones sparked a second half run that propelled Robert Morris to a 68-60 win at the Sewall Center. The victory gave Robert Morris its 500th win in program history and secured a home playoff game in the Northeast Conference tournament.

"With us, you never know who's going to come and get you buckets," Russell Johnson said.

For almost the first 30 minutes, it was everyone but the trio of guards, though they certainly had a hand. Johnson finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Lijah Thompson had his second straight strong game with 15 points. Those two, along with Mike McFadden and Lawrence Bridges helped carry Robert Morris to a 28-19 halftime lead.

The focus on the front-court was partly by design and partly because that's what Central Connecticut State gave the Colonials.

"We didn't throw it in there enough in Connecticut," Andy Toole said. "We did it early on and had some success then we went away from it. We stayed with it tonight."

Even as the guards took up the reigns in the second half, Robert Morris enjoyed a dominant night inside, outscoring CCSU 38-11 in the paint. Toole said there was a clear message that's been sent to the team in recent days.

"Let's stop fooling around with it and attack the rim and score," he said. "If those guys are continuing to score like they are, then we have to go back to them."

Robert Morris enjoyed the inside lift untl the 11:02 mark of the second half. Up 40-35, Robert Morris was trying to fend off a Central Connecticut State rally. In stepped Williams, who hit his first three-pointer of the game. Forty seconds later, Myers fired in a trey, and both buckets came on assists from freshman Brandon Herman. Williams forced a steal and fed Myers for another three, and after CCSU took a timeout, Jones went coast-to-cast for a lay-up.

What did the surge mean?

"That we have to defend every night. That's what it says," Toole said. "That's when we're at our best, when we're defending like crazy and sharing the ball."

Indeed, with Robert Morris using an inside presence to score, the Colonials amped up the pressure on defense. They held CCSU to 24 percent shooting in the first half, and 34 percent for the game. If not for an unbelievable effort by Kyle Vinales to score half of his 32 points in the final four minutes, the final score wouldn't have been close and the shooting numbers would have been even lower.

"We went to their home and they somewhat embarrassed us," Myers said. "We took it personally. We wanted to hold them under 40 percent."

Robert Morris only forced 13 turnovers, but their defense clearly rattled Central Connecticut State. Outside of Vinales, the only effective shooter was Robby Ptacek, who went 5-of-14 for 14 points. Vinales made eight 3-pointers, but the rest of the Blue Devils only made one. And All-NEC pick Ken Horton scored just two points in 26 minutes.

"First half, the defense by Robert Morris was outstanding. They had a man-and-a-half guarding the ball," CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. "The offside defense always seemed to be in the way, so we couldn't get in line to the basket."

It was Robert Morris' fifth straight win and guaranteed Robert Morris will play at least one NEC Tournament game in the Sewall Center. And in Dickenman's eyes, that's a potential nightmare for the NEC, including CCSU. Dickenman acknowledged that the Blue Devils could be right back at the Sewall Center in two weeks in a first-round matchup.

"They're peaking right now," he said. "After tonight, I don't know if I want to come back here."

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

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