Playing without its two leading scorers, Robert Morris didn't flinch.
With guards Velton Jones and Karvel Anderson sidelined due to injuries, the Colonials turned in one of their most well-rounded performances of the season and downed Sacred Heart, 66-62, at Sewall Center for their third win in a row.
Four players scored in double figures for the Colonials (11-7, 3-2 Northeast Conference). Lucky Jones and Mike McFadden tied for the team high with 15 points apiece.
"When you talk about teams that are successful, whenever they're hit with some adversity or some difficulty, they find a way to persevere and get through the game," Colonials coach Andy Toole said. "Guys played out of position, guys played extended minutes, guys played out of rotation."
The Colonials ripped off a 12-0 run midway through the second half to build a 49-37 lead against the Pioneers (5-11, 3-2 NEC). The stretch was keyed by Anthony Myers-Pate, Velton Jones' replacement at point guard, nailing a 3-pointer for his first basket of the game.
The Pioneers fought back, making back-to-back 3-pointers immediately to get back in the game. Sacred Heart eventually whittled the deficit to three, but Louis Montes missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
Montes, a 13 percent 3-point shooter, was wide open to take the shot after a mix-up on defense.
"It was just a miscommunication and luckily they missed a shot," Lucky Jones said.
Shane Gibson, the NEC's third-leading scorer, had 27 points for the Pioneers, but nine of those came in the final 2:33 as Sacred Heart was trying to claw its way back into the game.
"I didn't know he had 27," Colonials forward Russell Johnson said. "Down the stretch, he hit a couple of tough shots, free throws add up, but to me it was quiet."
The defensive performance Thursday was another step forward from two weeks ago, when the Colonials gave up 84 and 77 points in losses to Bryant and Central Connecticut State.
"I think the guys that were out there, we had a couple breakdowns that normally would've been taken care of, but the overall effort defensively was where it needed to be in a game like this," Toole said.
Toole said he was pleasantly surprised with the offensive effort from his team. Velton Jones and Anderson combine to average 23.7 points per game, but the Colonials got 10 points each from Johnson and guard Coron Williams. Sophomore guard David Appolon chipped in with six points and a drew a key charge late in the game.
"You could kind of see there was some urgency in the group of guys," Toole said. "It's funny, when you lose a couple guys, I don't want to say there's excitement, but there's a little bit of a new challenge to it."
Initially, it looked like that challenge might be too much for the Colonials. The game got out to a quick start, with Sacred Heart taking a 12-7 lead in the first 3:19.
From that point, though, Robert Morris locked down on defense and forced the Pioneers into bad shots. The Colonials put together a 14-3 run to claim a 21-15 lead, disrupting the Sacred Heart offense and forcing 12 first-half turnovers. The Pioneers finished with 21 turnovers, their second-highest total of the season.
"When guys had opportunities to attack and get a cheap steal, I think guys took that chance," Williams said. "I think with our ball pressure, that's the way we play, that's what we're supposed to do. I think it was very beneficial tonight."
The Colonials weathered a late Sacred Heart run to take a 29-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Freshman forward Stephan Hawkins, who likely will play a bigger role for the Colonials after the departure of forward Vaughn Morgan, stepped up in the first half with five rebounds and three points off the bench. He finished with six rebounds and three points in 23 minutes, his highest total of the season.
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.