For so long, it felt so certain.
From the 11:10 mark of the first half, Robert Morris held what seemed like a stranglehold on Central Connecticut State, building a commanding lead that was as high as 15 points with less than six minutes remaining.
But by the time the game ended, an eight-man team that had found a way to win seven in a row ultimately found a way to lose.
The Blue Devils, who trailed by 15 with 5:05 remaining and by eight with 2:33 left to play, mounted a furious comeback, outscoring the Colonials by 14 points in the final four minutes to claim an improbable 74-73 victory Saturday in a Northeast Conference game at Sewall Center.
"It's a lesson to be learned," Robert Morris forward Lucky Jones said. "We honestly didn't take them as seriously as last game and that's our fault.
"That's the way the game goes. You have to respect your opponent. You can't come out here thinking it's all good and you've got the lead the rest of the game and you just slack off."
The loss was Robert Morris' first since Jan. 4.
From the 3:28 mark of the first half until there was 3:43 remaining, the Colonials (12-11, 7-1) held a double-digit lead, one largely built on an inability by the Blue Devils (6-15, 2-6) to make baskets. From the middle of the first half to the opening minutes of the second half, Central Connecticut State went 11:26 without a made field goal, a span in which it missed 13 consecutive shots.
Though the Blue Devils had started to chip away at the deficit, they still trailed by 13 points with 4:01 remaining.
From there, however, one of the conference's worst offensive teams began to find its stroke. Led by nine points from Malcolm McMillan, it made seven of its final eight shots to get within a point, 73-72, with 42 seconds remaining.
On Robert Morris' final possession, with a six-second difference between the game and shot clock, Karvel Anderson missed a long 2-pointer with the shot clock nearing zero. Central Connecticut State grabbed the rebound, sprinted up the court and guard Matt Mobley was able to draw a foul on a layup attempt with 2.2 seconds left.
He made both shots and Jones' ensuing inbounds pass was stolen to complete the collapse.
For a team with just eight players in uniform, fatigue would seem like a possible reason for losing the large lead, but Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said it had more to do with his team's focus, or lack thereof.
"We have a mentality as a team that when things are going our way and things are going good that we want to kick our feet up and relax," he said. "That's not how you are successful as a college basketball team when you have the opportunity to put a team away."
After a layup from Aaron Tate with 4:01 remaining, the Colonials did not make a field goal for the rest of the game and made only 6 of 11 free throws in the final three minutes.
Khalen Cumberlander led four Central Connecticut State players in double figures with 18 points. Jones had a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds for Robert Morris while also becoming the 22nd player in program history to score 1,000 career points.
But for any accomplishment the Colonials had, it could not overwhelm the sting of this loss.
"We just didn't take full control of the opportunity we had," Jones said. "We let it slip away."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published February 1, 2014 6:19 PM