RMU men roar back to top Saint Francis, 60-57, advance to NEC title game

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Karvel Anderson didn’t necessarily need a basket, but he needed something. More important, his team needed something.

For the past 61 minutes, the Northeast Conference player of the year with the textbook shooting stroke was scoreless. With Robert Morris trailing Saint Francis by five at halftime of the Northeast Conference tournament semifinals, he had no points, promoting his teammate, Lucky Jones, to turn to him in the locker room and offer some advice.

“I told my man on my left,” Jones said in the postgame news conference, motioning to Anderson, “and said ‘You’ve got to turn up.’”

In the final 20 minutes, Anderson did just that when the Colonials needed him the most. And the eight-man team that has seemingly found every way to win this season pulled it off yet again.

Anderson had a game-high 21 points, all in the second half, as Robert Morris came back to defeat Saint Francis, 60-57, in the NEC semifinals Saturday at Sewall Center.

“This is something that we’re used to by now,” guard Anthony Myers-Pate said. “Adversity is a part of our team. We stepped up, we stayed together and we remained a family.”

The Colonials (21-12) will play host to Mount St. Mary’s (15-16) Tuesday in the conference championship, their fifth appearance in the title game in the past six seasons.

Jones added 18 points, helping keep the team afloat during a subpar offensive performance in the first half.

Entering Saturday, Robert Morris had defeated Saint Francis 13 consecutive times, a streak dating to 2008. But even with two of those wins coming this season, the gap between the two programs wasn’t as glaring as it once was.

Early on, it showed.

A 14-0 run gave the Red Flash a 16-6 lead, a spurt aided by a nine-minute stretch in which the Colonials did not score. By halftime, Robert Morris had closed the deficit, but still trailed, 20-15, marking the lowest-scoring first half of the Andy Toole era (which dates to 2010).

Still, the team didn’t panic.

“I wouldn’t say there was a high level of confidence, but when I went in, I said ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s 5-0, 20-15, 70-65 — it’s still five points,’ ” Toole said. “As poorly as we played offensively, we defended well enough to give ourselves a chance and that’s exactly what you can ask for out of a situation like that.”

Once the second half began, momentum began to swing.

The Colonials scored 15 of the first 17 points of the half to take a 30-22 lead. Six of those points came from Anderson free throws, something which opened up things for him.

“To see the ball actually go through the hoop for the first time in the tournament, it did a lot for me,” said Anderson, who also broke the program’s single-season scoring record.

Robert Morris’ advantage grew to as many as 12, but Saint Francis made a final push. An uncontested dunk from Ronnie Drinnon with 2:12 remaining capped off a 10-1 run, one that trimmed the Colonials’ lead to one.

Down by three with 15 seconds remaining, Saint Francis had a final chance to tie the score, but a 35-foot 3 from Malik Harmon went off the front of the rim.

For the Red Flash, who won an NEC tournament game for the first time since 1995, it was a season of progress, but it was ultimately one that ended in disappointment.

“Playoff basketball’s a lot of fun until you have to get in that locker room with a bunch of guys that have battled all year and are great kids that do everything you ask on and off the court,” Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel said. “That’s not an easy moment.”

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published March 8, 2014 4:16 PM

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