Starting lineup changes pay off for Robert Morris basketball
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Leading by 15 points with a little more than 11 minutes to play, it looked as if Robert Morris was poised to put its recent struggles behind it with a comfortable win.
Instead, the Colonials had to hold on until the final seconds before they eked out a 70-67 win at home against Sacred Heart Saturday night. The win ended a two-game losing streak.
Lawrence Bridges, the team's lone senior, made three free throws in the final 51 seconds to seal the win.
Sacred Heart had a few chances to tie the game, but Louis Montes missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left and Shane Gibson missed a field-goal attempt that would have made it a one-point game with four seconds to play. Lijah Thompson missed a pair of free throws with three seconds left, but the Pioneers couldn't get off a last-second attempt before the buzzer.
"They kept fighting, and we kind of got a little relaxed, we let them get rebounds," Robert Morris redshirt junior guard Velton Jones said. "We didn't do the little things to finish the game out. That's conference basketball for you. Teams aren't just going to give up and let you finish the game."
Coach Andy Toole made some significant changes to his starting lineup Saturday, with Anthony Myers and Thompson replacing Jones and Mike McFadden in the starting five. Lucky Jones also started in place of Russell Johnson, who missed the game with a broken thumb.
For Jones, the team's leading scorer, it was the first time he was on the bench at the start of a game since his redshirt freshman season two years ago. He had the longest active streak on the team with 70 consecutive starts. Toole said he made the switch to try and create more defensive intensity at the start.
"I didn't know how [Velton] was going to respond, to be honest with you," Toole said. "Even in shootaround today, I don't think he was completely excited about the decision that I made."
Jones responded with his best offensive game in weeks. He finished with 18 points on 6 of 16 shooting and had five assists in 31 minutes.
He also made some key field goals when Coron Williams, who led the team with 20 points, went down with an ankle injury in the second half. Williams had struggled in recent games but was hot early. He finished 4 of 6 from 3-point range but missed most of the final 12 minutes.
On the other side, Gibson almost single-handedly kept the Pioneers in the game down the stretch. He made 7 of 11 3-point attempts and finished with 29 points. While he had some open looks early, many of his long-range attempts came with Robert Morris defenders in his face.
"You can't do anything about those shots," Toole said. "What you do is don't let him get some of the wide-open early ones that he got, because then he gets in a rhythm."
Jones said that, in some ways, a close win was better than a blowout because it reminded the Colonials of all the work still left to be done.
"Not OK, but it's getting better," he said. "A win is a win, but we've still got to go on the road next week and just get back to our winning ways. Losing sucks. We've just got to go back into practice and do whatever we can to get back."
First Published January 15, 2012 12:00 am