PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Robert Morris coughed up a six-point lead in the final five seconds of regulation Thursday night against St. Francis Brooklyn.
The Colonials avoided disaster, though, bouncing back in overtime to defeat the Terriers, 80-79, at the AJ Palumbo Center. The game was a matchup of the last two unbeaten teams in the NEC, and Robert Morris prevailed to improve to 3-0 in league play for the first time since 2013-14.
“It certainly wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t smooth in the way we performed,” head coach Andy Toole said of his team’s performance. “But somehow we were able to figure a way out.”
Matty McConnell and Dachon Burke combined for 28 points in the second half after scoring just two in the first. Burke finished with a game-high 17 points, and McConnell added 13. Both players recorded four steals and had two assists.
Robert Morris (9-7) led 66-60 with 4.1 seconds left, but St. Francis’ Glenn Sanabria hit a quick three to slice the deficit in half with just over a second remaining. The Colonials attempted to throw the ball deep down the court on the ensuing play, yet Kolby Thomas’ pass drifted towards the sideline and McConnell couldn’t corral it, losing the ball out of bounds.
— RMU Athletics (@RMUAthletics) January 5, 2018
“My error was trying to throw the ball long,” Toole said. “I told Kolby to keep it on the court, and we tried to run the tightrope on the sideline to see if we could get it, which was a mistake. I should have just ran someone to the ball and let him get fouled.”
With 0.6 seconds left, Sanabria received the inbounds pass along the sideline and lofted a tying three, which went in as time expired. The shot was confirmed by official replay, sending the game to overtime.
Reeling from the shot, Robert Morris stumbled through the opening minute and a half of the extra period, falling behind by four. The Colonials rallied, though, scoring five straight points to regain the lead, 73-72, behind Thomas’ two free throws with 1:32 left.
The teams would trade baskets twice over the next several seconds, the last a jumper by Burke to level the score at 77 with 41 seconds remaining. Sanabria put the Terriers back in front with 15 seconds left, but McConnell took the inbounds pass and raced to the other end, finishing through contact while drawing the foul. He sunk the free throw to complete the and-one play.
“I just saw Coach Toole saying, ‘Go, go, go,’ and I drove and there was no one there and he tried to take a charge,” McConnell said of the game-deciding play.
Rasheem Dunn’s three from the top of the key missed its mark as the horn sounded, and the Colonials survived a wild finish to win their third straight game.
“I think we saved the mental toughness from the first 40 minutes of the game, and we used it in overtime,” Toole said of team’s resiliency. “I didn’t think we were very mentally tough during the beginning part. I didn’t think we were very mentally engaged.”
The lead exchanged hands or was tied 28 times, as neither team led by more than six points. The Colonials carried a 33-31 advantage into the break after trailing much of the opening half. They extended their lead to four on several occasions during the second half but failed to further pad their margin, either rushing shots or committing careless turnovers.
Our first buzzer-beater of the #NECMBB season. @SFBKTerriers Glenn Sanabria sends game to OT on this long 3P at the horn at RMU. Battle of the two unbeaten teams in NEC play continues on @NECFrontRow.https://t.co/PKZwfAEi3K pic.twitter.com/dnApgmLWpP
— Northeast Conference (@NECsports) January 5, 2018
“There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to improve on,” Toole said. “A lot of stuff we have to get better at, because I don’t think we’re going to be as fortunate if we continue to perform the way we did tonight.”
Robert Morris was 23 of 39 from the free throw line, including going nine of 19 in the second half, and committed 16 turnovers. The Colonials held a +12 advantage on the glass and outscored St. Francis (5-10) by 12 in the paint, despite Malik Petteway’s absence. He missed the game due to a lower body injury, and his status is uncertain.
Kolby Thomas registered his first career double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Charles Bain scored all 11 of his points in the first half.
Robert Morris will host LIU Brooklyn Saturday at 4 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.