Robert Morris clinches NEC playoff spot with win vs. Saint Francis

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On paper, a home win against the ninth-place team should be business as usual for a squad that expects to contend for the conference.

In many ways, it was. But, for a Robert Morris team still trying to lock down its identity, it also could serve as an important building block for the stretch run.

The Colonials beat Saint Francis, 70-56, Saturday night, extending their winning streak to three games and clinching their ninth consecutive NEC tournament bid.

Coron Williams scored 18 points and was one of four Colonials in double figures. Russell Johnson scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

"I thought that we did a lot of good things tonight," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "I thought for the third game in a row we really shared the ball. I thought our ball pressure and our defensive energy was where it needs to be."

The Colonials started out hot, with Williams and Johnson combining to make five of the team's first six 3-point attempts. Johnson's second 3 gave Robert Morris a 22-10 lead 11:07 into the first half.

"I think a lot of times, the makeup of our team a little bit is instead of diving into the deep end head first, they kind of wiggle their toe in the water and see how warm it is, how cold it is," Toole said. "I thought we did a good job of setting the tone of the game tonight."

After taking an 11-point lead into halftime, Robert Morris had to hold off numerous Red Flash surges. In the first minute of the second half, the Red Flash cut the lead to six, but the Colonials built it back to 11.

The closest Saint Francis came was with 9:46 to go, when Ollie Jackson made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 50-45. The Colonials ripped off six consecutive points, though, and held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

Mike McFadden grabbed eight rebounds for the Colonials after having none in their win against Saint Francis Wednesday. With forward Lijah Thompson out with back spasms, McFadden played 28 minutes, his highest total in the past five games.

Velton Jones, the Colonials leading scorer, was held under his season average of 16.4 points for the fourth consecutive game. Jones, however, has found ways to help the team without scoring, and Saturday was no exception.

He had seven assists to just two turnovers and made the biggest hustle play when he dived from behind to break up a Saint Francis fastbreak. He poked the ball away and slid under the basket and well out of bounds, drawing an ovation.

"That's Velton for you," Williams said. "I've seen that before. At Monmouth last year, he did it so I wasn't surprised."

That defensive energy also helped the Colonials on the offensive end as they turned 24 Saint Francis turnovers into 33 points.

"You turn the ball over 24 times and you do it in critical junctures," Red Flash coach Don Friday said. "It's like throwing buckets of water in your row boat. You can only do it so many times."

Scott Eatherton led the way for the Red Flash with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He combined with Earl Brown and Stephon Whyatt for 46 points, but the rest of the team only managed 10.

Sam Werner: or 412-263-1459 First Published February 12, 2012 5:00 AM


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