Bye, bye Blackbirds: Robert Morris tops Long Island
Robert Morris' Lijah Thompson, center, and Velton Jones greet fans after defeating Long Island Thursday night at the Sewall Center.
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Heading into Robert Morris' game Thursday night, Colonials coach Andy Toole said he still was trying to instill in his team the importance of details and intensity on defense.
For one night, at least, message received.
The Colonials took down league-leading Long Island, 75-66, at the Sewall Center, exacting some measure of revenge for the Blackbirds' 85-82 overtime win last year in the Northeast Conference tournament championship game.
As usual, Velton Jones led the Colonials (16-6, 7-2 NEC) with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
More important, though, was Robert Morris' shutdown effort against Long Island's league-leading offense. The Blackbirds (14-7, 8-1 NEC) entered the game averaging 79.2 points per game, but had no answer to Toole's effective mix of zone and man-to-man defenses.
"I thought we were sharp on defense," Toole said. "We haven't really been sharp defensively in a while."
The Blackbirds never seemed to get comfortable offensively, making just 3 of 16 shots from 3-point range. Michael Culpo, a 38.3 percent 3-point shooter this season, went 0 for 7 from beyond the arc.
Robert Morris, meanwhile, slowed the pace on offense, patiently finding open shots, but also taking advantage of fastbreaks when they could.
"We did a good job of controlling the tempo and playing the game at our speed as opposed to their speed," Toole said.
Playing in front of their biggest home crowd this season, the Colonials came out noticeably fired up. Jones started things with a 3-pointer on Robert Morris' first possession. The Blackbirds answered with a 3-point play by Jamal Olasewere, but the Colonials ripped off an 8-0 run to take an 11-3 lead at the first media timeout.
"It was a little different," Long Island coach Jim Ferry said. "We've been starting like that, we've been jumping people."
Long Island chipped away and closed to within three a few times, but never got closer.
Robert Morris ended the half with a 6-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Jones, followed by a driving layup on the next possession. Robert Morris entered the half leading, 34-26.
The Colonials held Long Island scoreless on fastbreak points in the first half and committed only four turnovers, compared to 12 for the Blackbirds.
Robert Morris also held Long Island to 0-for-8 shooting from behind the arc in the opening half.
"Our defense tonight was probably our best in a while," Jones said. "We came out, we handled our game plan well. We did the things we were supposed to do."
The Colonials maintained their lead early in the second half and eventually widened it to double figures on several brief occasions.
Coron Williams, 1 for 5 on 3-pointers in the first half, made 3 of 5 in the second to spark Robert Morris.
Jones took just two shots in the second half, but dished out four assists.
"I think in the second half, [Velton] trusted his teammates," Toole said.
"He was really sharp offensively."
The Colonials took their biggest lead with 6:47 to play when a Brandon Herman steal and layup gave them a 62-47 advantage.
Long Island would not go away, though, and outscored Robert Morris, 12-2, over the next four minutes to cut the lead to five.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Williams said.
"We knew they would probably make one, come down, get to the rim and get fouled. We knew they would get on a little run, we just made sure they didn't get on a big run."
The Colonials stopped the bleeding at that point, mixing timely defense and strong free-throw shooting to preserve the win.
The victory moves Robert Morris to within a game of the Blackbirds for first place in the conference. The Colonials are tied with Wagner and St. Francis, their opponent Saturday.
First Published January 27, 2012 12:00 am