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February 25, 2012

RMU falls to Quinnipiac, still snags 3-seed

In the span of a couple hours, Robert Morris lost all of its momentum, only to gain a reprieve from an unexpected source.

Quinnipiac snapped Robert Morris' six-game winning streak with a 73-69 victory that appeared to knock the Colonials down to the No. 4 seed and into a third match-up with the Bobcats.

Just a couple hours later, Robert Morris was up off the mat and away from their nemesis. Fairleigh Dickinson earned its third win of the season with a stunning 45-44 upset of St. Francis (N.Y.), pushing Robert Morris back into the third seed and awaiting No. 6 Monmouth, which put 106 points up on LIU Brooklyn in the season finale.

The Colonials earned a reprieve. Now, they have to find their momentum again.

"We didn't have enough guys that were locked in and focused and playing with the energy that it takes to beat a good team like Quinnipiac," Andy Toole said on his post-game radio show.

Robert Morris had three. Velton Jones had 29 points as he tried to match Quinnipiac's James Johnson shot for shot. Johnson also had 29 points. Robert Morris also had a strong performance from Russell Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds), and a strong second half from Mike McFadden (nine points).

"You can't win a game with 3 guys, and we had 3 guys tonight. We had Mike, we had Russell, and we had Velton," Toole said. "Maybe we didn't prepare them enough, maybe it was too early, maybe it's the thursday/saturday on the road. We've only swept only one Thursday/Saturday on the road and that was FDU/Monmouth, and Monmouth was a miracle."

Quinnipiac jumped out to an early lead and had a hold on it until just before halftime, when Robert Morris held the Bobcats to just one point in the final 2:37. McFadden scored on a lay-up just before the buzzer to make it 38-38 at the break.

It was essentially a one possession game from there. The largest lead was six for Quinnipiac, but Russell Johnson quickly closed it with six straight points.

"I thought we played really good defense for the first 13 or 14 minutes in the second half, kind of made the game our tempo and how we need to play, and then we had breakdowns down the stretch," Toole said.

Robert Morris' last lead came after Jones made two free throws with 2:29 left to make it 60-59. But James Johnson hit back-to-back three-pointers, including one look that was wide open. Jones hit a three-pointer to make it 71-69, Quinnipiac, with nine seconds left but he fouled out while sending Johnson to the line. Even then, Robert Morris had a chance when Johnson missed both free throws, but the Colonials couldn't pull down the rebound.

"It's disappointing that we don't have more toughness, that we don't have more guys that understand what it takes to win on the road and how hard you have to work and how you have to defend," Toole said. "We gave up 38 points in the first half of the game, and the last half we played against them we gave up 51. That's 89 points in two halves. You can't win games like that. I just don't understand why we don't have more guys that understand what it takes to be successful."

Toole was disappointed that the effort and energy he had seen on defense the past six games disappeared during a significant showcase for his program.

"It breaks my heart, because you have certain guys who work so hard and this is so important to, and you have coaches who put in a lot of effort in from an assistant coaching standpoint on how to scout things and do things, and then you just have blown coverages," Toole said. "It breaks your heart because there are so many people that care about Robert Morris basketball, and a better effort from us is what they deserve."

Toole will no doubt demand that effort when Robert Morris opens the NEC Tournament on Thursday at the Sewall Center.

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

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