With about four minutes to go in Robert Morris' blowout win Thursday against Bryant, Colonials forward Lawrence Bridges took a fast-break feed from Velton Jones and threw down a ferocious slam dunk over Bulldogs forward Vlad Kondratyev.
The dunk brought the Sewall Center crowd and Bridges' teammates to their feet. Jones was probably the most excited, sprinting over to congratulate Bridges under the basket.
"About time," Jones said with a smile. "He can jump so high but he just never tries to dunk on anyone. It was a good thing. I got really excited when I saw it. I didn't expect it."
Bridges, the lone senior on the Colonials roster, may not light up the highlight reel or stat sheet very often, but he has been a vital part of Robert Morris' success over the past two seasons. His final regular-season home game tonight will mark the end of a long and winding journey that involved stops at three different colleges.
- Matchup: Central Connecticut State (11-14, 8-7 NEC) vs. Robert Morris (20-8, 11-4), 7 p.m. today, Sewall Center.
- Radio, Internet: WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
- Robert Morris: Beat Bryant, 69-40, Thursday to earn fourth 20-win season in past five years. ... Clinches home game in first round of Northeast Conference tournament with win. ... A win tonight would be the 500th in school history. ... Leading scorer Velton Jones (16.4 points per game) scored 19 points vs. Bryant, his highest total since 21 vs. St. Francis, N.Y., Jan. 28.
- Central Connecticut State: Coming off 65-60 win Thursday against Saint Francis of Loretto that snapped four-game losing streak. ... Beat Robert Morris in first meeting this season, 68-53, at home. ... Senior F Ken Horton leads team in scoring (18.5 points per game) and rebounding (9.0 rebounds per game).
- Hidden stat: Horton, senior Robby Ptacek and freshman Kyle Vinales combine for 77.5 percent of the Blue Devils' scoring. Against Colonials, they scored 63 of 68 points.
Four years ago, Bridges started his college basketball career at Central Michigan. He played in 30 games for the Chippewas, but transferred to Columbus State Community College after the season. In June 2010, he signed a letter of intent to join Robert Morris.
"It felt like it was a longer process being so many places," Bridges said. "But I remember like it was yesterday walking into my first college course, my first college practice."
Bridges came off the bench his first 17 games with Robert Morris, but coach Andy Toole inserted him into the starting lineup Feb. 3, 2011 against Bryant. Bridges provided the Colonials with improved rebounding and defensive pressure. In the final 11 games that Bridges started, Robert Morris went 9-2 and lost in overtime of the Northeast Conference championship game.
Entering this season as the only senior on the roster, Bridges knew he would have to take on an increased leadership role, even though it was just his second year in the program. He said he referenced memories from his one season at Central Michigan, when the team's lone senior didn't take charge and the Chippewas went 12-19.
"I remember how he was, and he wasn't a leader type of guy," Bridges said. "He didn't show any type of leadership, and I was like, 'I don't really want to be like that. ... I've got to be the mature guy, not joke around.' "
Toole and his players agree that Bridges has been an exceptional leader on and off the court this season. A few up-and-down performances at the beginning of February led to him losing his starting spot after 34 consecutive starts, but Toole said Bridges might have been starting to overthink things.
Bridges has bounced back since then, though. He started the team's past two games and scored 10 points with six rebounds against Bryant. He said he still has goals he wants to accomplish, specifically playing in the NCAA tournament this year, but he added that the game tonight definitely will be emotional.
Toole said he would make sure Bridges stayed focused on achievements still in sight.
"When it's all said and done, I'm sure I'll give him a big hug and tell him how great he was," Toole said. "You just can't do those things now because then guys think you're nice and they don't have to work anymore."
Bridges has described his role as one who does the team's dirty work -- getting rebounds, defending and hustling for loose balls -- and said he didn't mind it, with one caveat.
"I've got to get it done," he said. "As long as we're winning. I just want to win."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published February 18, 2012 5:00 AM