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February 21, 2013

Game Day: Monmouth at RMU

Will he or won't he?

That's the question lurking around Robert Morris' campus this week. Will heralded guard Velton Jones suit up for the final two regular season home games of the season, including senior night festivities on Saturday, or will he still be sidelined with a bad shoulder?

Even head coach Andy Toole doesn't know. Jones didn't practice with the team Monday or Tuesday, as he worked with the training staff and did cardiovascular work instead.

Game 28: Monmouth
WHEN: February 21, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Charles L. Sewall center
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Monmouth 253, Robert Morris 130
KENPOM RANKINGS: Monmouth 308, Robert Morris 161
PROJECTED SACRED HEART STARTERS: F Tyrone O'Garro (6'5, 210, Fr.), F Ed Waite (6'3, 215, Sr.), G Stephen Spinella (6'4, 200, Sr.), G Dion Nesmith (6'0, 200, Sr.), G Jesse Steele (5'8, 180, Sr.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C Stephan Hawkins (6'9, 205, Fr.), F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), F Lucky Jones (6'6, 205, So.), G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RJr.), G Anthony Myers-Pate (5'11, 170, Jr.)

Though Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth are at the bottom of the Northeast Conference, the games could serve as potentially crucial wins for Robert Morris as it tries to hold onto the top spot in the NEC. Home court has proven to be incredibly valuable in the NEC Tournament, and considering the parity in the league this year, could be the extra edge a team needs to grab a championship.

But Jones is an integral part of the team. With road contests looming against Bryant and Central Connecticut State, might an extra few days of rest benefit him? That's the dilemma Toole faces. Does he sit Jones and hope the rest of his team pulls out wins like they did Saturday against Sacred Heart? Does he risk playing Jones both games to ensure he's playing with a full deck? Or does he sit Jones on Thursday and play him sparingly so his star senior can be recognized with fellow starter Russell Johnson and walk-ons Treadwell Lewis and Shane Sweigart on Saturday?

Toole wasn't tipping his hand, saying Tuesday he'd discuss all the options with his staff, Jones, and the team trainers.

"One of the things about Velton is he's earned the right to make some decisions about his career and how he wants to finish it out," Toole said. "He has a lot of trust of the coaching staff, so it'll be a conversation about what he thinks is best and how he's feeling."

No matter how it plays out, Toole said he doesn't anticipate senior night being a distraction for Johnson or Jones. Toole recounted how he didn't even start on his senior night. As a transfer from Elon, he and a fellow starter went to Penn head coach Fran Dunphy and badgered him enough that Dunphy started five other seniors instead.

For Lewis and Sweigart, though, Toole anticipates that it could be a little different. Toole would like to get them playing time - some coaches have even started walk-ons in the past - but didn't mention any specific plans.

"I know both of them believe that the best decision for the team is the best decision for them. That's why they've left such a mark on the program, because that's their mindset," Toole said. "Would we love to play them for 40 minutes? Of course we would. They understand, we understand, that the most important thing is playing the best we can."

With fans hoping for a Lewis/Sweigart appearance and concern surrounding Jones' shoulder, Johnson is flying a bit under the radar this week. The reserved wing doesn't appear to mind, though he's admitted this week has been on his mind.

"It has. I've thought about it," the fifth-year senior said. "But then I try not to think about it and just go on and just play. When it comes, it comes."

Johnson said he's chatted with former Colonials, including Lawrence Bridges, but he's brushed aside talk of senior night.

"I was like, "Look, I don't want to hear about it now. I'm going to have to deal with it, and then when it gets here, maybe we'll talk about it if you're here that day or something," Johnson recalled.

In fact, senior night just hasn't played a major role in Johnson's life. Many college players remember senior night from high school. Not Johnson. It was just another game for his Chester Clippers as they prepped for a deep playoff run.

"To us, senior night didn't feel like a senior night because we knew we had more games," Johnson said. "We knew we had to get to the championship, so it was just like, 'Let's play this regular game and keep moving forward.'"

Johnson's history - including a couple injuries last year - have helped him cherish each game more this year. He'll also cherish senior night for the first time, though he said his first priority is winning.

"It's different with college, though. Even though you know you have more games, on any given night you can slip up and lose that game and it can really hurt you," Johnson said.

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

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