For Robert Morris' opponents in the NEC tournament, this week will be all about keeping up with the Joneses.
Redshirt junior guard Velton Jones and freshman swingman Lucky Jones aren't related, but both will play crucial roles in how far the Colonials advance in the NEC tournament. Robert Morris faces Monmouth at 7 p.m. today at home in the quarterfinals.
Velton, the team's unquestioned leader, averages 16.5 points and 4.3 assists per game, both tops on the team. He can score when he needs to, evidenced by eight games with more than 20 points this season. Against Sacred Heart Feb. 23, with the Colonials trailing by one, he made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give his team the win.
The point guard is equally effective, though, when he helps his teammates get easy baskets. In a late-season six-game winning streak, Velton averaged just 12.3 points per game, but had games with eight, seven and six assists.
- Matchup: Monmouth (12-19) vs. Robert Morris (22-9), 7 p.m. today, Sewall Center. NEC tournament quarterfinals.
- Radio, Internet: WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
- Robert Morris: Lost at Quinnipiac, 73-69, Saturday to snap a season-high six game winning streak. ... Leading scorer Velton Jones (16.5 ppg) scored 29 points against the Bobcats. ... Owns 31-20 record in conference tournament play. ... Swept Monmouth this season, 69-51 at home and 81-73 in overtime at Monmouth. ... Of the 14 players on roster, six have played in at least three NEC tournament games.
- Monmouth: Coming off 106-78 win Saturday against regular-season champion Long Island. ... Won eight of its last 10 regular-season games. ... Junior guard Jesse Steele leads the team in scoring (12.6 points per game), 3-pointers (2.0 per game) and assists (4.2 per game).
- Hidden stat: Jones, Coron Williams and Lijah Thompson all averaged at least 14 points per game in Robert Morris' run to the NEC championship game last season.
"In a lot of ways it's important because college basketball comes down to guys making plays and making shots," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "He's a guy who can either get his own shot or make a shot for somebody else, so that's a really important aspect to any college basketball team."
Off the court, Velton plays the role of elder statesman. He has the most experience of anyone on the roster -- the lone senior, Lawrence Bridges, transferred in last year. Velton's role this week has been preparing younger players for what it will be like playing in the postseason.
That's where the younger Jones comes in. Lucky, along with fellow youngsters Brandon Herman, Anthony Myers and Mike McFadden, will have to perform under the bright lights if the Colonials hope to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out last year.
"To be successful in the NEC tournament, everyone's going to have to play well," Toole said. "Everyone's going to have to bring the defensive energy that we talk about. Everyone's going to have to bring the decision-making we talk about. It's everybody."
Lucky averages 8.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game but has been up and down this season. He has one double-double this season and has flirted with several more. But he has had some remarkably quiet games, too. Saturday at Quinnipiac in a nationally televised game with playoff implications, he had just five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.
"He didn't have a great game Saturday," Toole said. "But I told him it was really important for him because it was an NEC playoff-type atmosphere. Maybe that will give him a little understanding of what exactly we're going through."
Velton said the older Colonials have been trying to prepare the young players for this moment the entire season, not just this past week. He thinks they'll be ready tonight.
"It's all about getting to the NCAA tournament," Velton said. "You work hard during the season to get a good seed in the [NEC] tournament. You've got to turn it up in order to get to the NCAA tournament."
The two Joneses have one other thing in common: Earlier this week, both were named to all-NEC teams. Velton made the first team and Lucky the all-rookie team.
If both make the NEC's all-tournament team next week, it would be a good sign for Robert Morris.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.