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February 16, 2013

Game Day: RMU at Sacred Heart

If there is one lesson that Robert Morris can take from its loss to Quinnipiac Thursday night, it might be the reminder that the Colonials are not a one-man team.

They are not Velton Jones and the Colonials, a 1950s era singing group with a charismatic frontman and a rotating cast of back-up characters. At the very least, it might have been a reminder that they can't be that group if they want to win the Northeast Conference.

Game 27: Sacred Heart
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WHEN: February 16, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Pitt Center in Fairfield, Connecticut
TV/RADIO: NECFrontRow.com and WPIT 730 AM/WPITAM.com (RMU Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Sacred Heart 216, Robert Morris 136
KENPOM RANKINGS: Sacred Heart 257, Robert Morris 163
PROJECTED SACRED HEART STARTERS: F Nick Greenbacker (6'9, 235, Sr.), F Louis Montes (6'4, 220, RJr.), G Steve Glowiak (6'3, 185, RSo.), G Shane Gibson (6'2, 180, RSr.), G Phil Gaetano (5'10, 170, So.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Jr.), F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), F Lucky Jones (6'6, 205, So.), G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RJr.), G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RSr.)

The last couple of weeks, it might have been easy to believe that it was indeed the Velton Jones show. Through no fault of his own, Jones provided more fuel to the fire in the creation of his legend around the NEC. Over the years, the senior point guard has provided clutch shots and heroic moments, all while earning respect for his toughness. There he was again in Brooklyn two weeks ago, injuring his shoulder Thursday night and then hitting the game-winning floater while playing with one arm against LIU-Brooklyn on Saturday.

There he was at home against Wagner, dishing out assists and hounding the Seahawks' guards in the first half as Robert Morris build a large lead and then needed every point as the Colonials held on in overtime. And there was Thursday night against Quinnipiac, seemingly out for the night only to step into the locker room just before tip and don his uniform, like Clark Kent stepping into the phone booth to become Superman.

Nearly every observer expected Jones to will Robert Morris to a win again, to provide a "Velton being Velton" play that merely added to the legend and have players and coaches smile knowingly. Instead he was 3-of-13, missed an off-balance runner that could have tied the game, and saw Evan Conti hit a driving jumper over top of him that enabled Quinnipiac to win.

Afterwards, Jones tweeted, "This one ALL on me."

For Robert Morris to win, it can't be. Lost in the buzz surrounding his winning shot against LIU was the notion that Robert Morris held the Blackbirds to a meager 57 points, the fewest LIU had scored in an NEC game since scoring 58 in a loss to Robert Morris on January 28, 2010. Lost in his six assists against Wagner was Robert Morris' performance at the free throw line, a 25-for-30 night that ultimately gave RMU the win in overtime.

And lost in Robert Morris' loss to Quinnipiac was the abysmal offense in the final four minutes (just one made field goal, Coron Williams' desperation 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left), paltry performance on the boards (46-28 advantage for Quinnipiac), and 5-for-13 performance at the free throw line.

There are times this year when Andy Toole has done his best impression of Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who incorporates the phrase "get to our game" in nearly every press conference. Toole has had to adopt the same repetitive approach, reminding the public that RMU is at its best when it plays a certain way.

Robert Morris' game has been built on a shared identity on offense, ball movement that leads to not just good shots but great shots. It's been built on all players attacking the glass on missed shots, and on all players forcing difficult, uncomfortable plays for the opposition on defense. It is not about one or two individuals, but about the collective.

Should anyone need proof, a quick glance at the box score from the last time Robert Morris played Sacred Heart would provide plenty of support. RMU won 66-62 against the Pioneers in January, doing it with Jones and leading scorer Karvel Anderson both out. Though RMU shot just 38 percent, the Colonials had four players in double figures, held a slight advantage on the boards, and forced 21 turnovers while losing the ball just 11 times.

The team effort made the difference in a crucial game. Against the same opponent and needing a similar win, Robert Morris might need to turn back the clock and get a similar effort.

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

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