Colonials will be home in 1st round
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If Robert Morris is going to win its third Northeast Conference championship in five seasons next month, it will have to win some games in hostile environments.
Saturday night, though, the Colonials ensured that their NEC tournament journey will begin in the friendly confines of the Sewall Center. Robert Morris defeated Central Connecticut State, 68-60, and clinched a top-four conference finish and secured a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's huge," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "I think it's huge, the more games you can play at home, the better your chances are."
Robert Morris took advantage of a 14-2 run midway through the second half to take control of the game. The Colonials had no points from their guards until 11:02 remained, then their backcourt players scored 11 consecutive points.
Coron Williams made a 3-pointer from the corner and Anthony Myers followed that by banking in a 3 from the wing. Myers made another long-range shot on the next possession, and Velton Jones connected on a floater for his first points of the game.
The run came after Robert Morris entered the second half ahead, 28-19. But Central Connecticut closed the gap to within two points 5:36 into the half.
The Blue Devils made another run late in the game and pulled within five points with a minute to go. Central Connecticut freshman Kyle Vinales made four 3s in the final 3:20 and scored 16 of his 32 points in that stretch.
"I thought some of those were defended really well and he just raised up and shot them anyways," Toole said.
The Colonials defense was outstanding from the outset. Robert Morris held Central Connecticut to 24 percent shooting in the first half, and the Blue Devils made just 2 of 10 shots from 3-point range.
Blue Devils star forward Ken Horton did not start due to injury, but came off the bench 3:43 into the contest. He played 26 minutes but scored just two points.
Myers, a sophomore guard, said the Colonials came into the game looking to exact revenge for a 68-53 loss at Central Connecticut earlier this season, and that manifested itself in high defensive intensity.
"We went to their home, they somewhat embarrassed us, so we took it personally," Myers said. "The thing was to get up in them with ball pressure."
On the offensive end, Robert Morris relied on its big men early. Junior forward Lijah Thompson scored 13 points in the first half and finished with a team-high 15, his highest total since Dec. 6 against Duquesne. Redshirt junior forward Russell Johnson chipped in with 14 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore Mike McFadden had nine points and seven rebounds.
"If those guys are continuing to score like they are, then you have to keep going back to them," Toole said.
Robert Morris' two leading scorers, Jones and Williams, combined for 12 points on 2 of 9 shooting, but it didn't seem to affect the Colonials' offensive flow. Jones did have six assists on the night.
"You have to defend and you have to share the basketball and that's when we're at our best," Toole said. "When we're defending like crazy and we're sharing the basketball."
Robert Morris takes to the road next weekend for games at Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac, but will return home March 1 for its first-round NEC playoff game.
First Published February 19, 2012 12:00 am