PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Off to an unbeaten start in NEC play, Robert Morris had a chance Thursday night to solidify its hold on the top spot in the conference and score a victory against the league’s top preseason pick in St. Francis U.
Instead, the young Colonials were dealt their first defeat in five games.
Robert Morris failed to match the Red Flash’s intensity from the onset, fell behind early, and never recovered in an 89-80 loss at PPG Paints Arena.
St. Francis (10-6, 4-1 NEC) scored on six of its first eight possessions and shot 56 percent in the opening stanza en route to scoring 52 first half points. It was the most points the Colonials had surrendered in a half all season. They only led once—5-4—as the Red Flash controlled the scoreboard for nearly 38 minutes.
“I thought the game was played on their terms,” head coach Andy Toole said. “They did what they do. They score, they execute, they don’t turn it over, and that’s what they did tonight. Our defense did not stand up to the challenge.”
St. Francis entered the contest averaging a league-leading a 83 points a contest and just 12 turnovers. The Red Flash scored six more than their season average and committed only 11 turnovers.
The guard trio of Jamaal King, Andre Wolford and Keith Braxton combined to score all but 22 of St. Francis’ 89 points. King led all scorers with a game-high 27 points, the third time in the last four games he has scored as many.
“I didn’t think we were there mentally or physically,” guard Matty McConnell said. “We let them get up early and could never fight our way back into single digits.”
After falling behind by nine early, Robert Morris (10-8, 4-1 NEC) clawed back within six at 35-29, but Toole was assessed a technical foul on the ensuing St. Francis possession. That exchange led to a four-point trip for the Red Flash, and they would rip off 12 unanswered points to open up an 18-point lead, 47-29. They would eventually take a 52-37 lead into the break, a stark contrast from their previous four games in which they trailed at the intermission.
Robert Morris’ played with a greater sense of urgency over the final 20 minutes yet had dug a hole too deep. The Colonials twice whittled the deficit to 10 near the halfway point of the second half but failed to come up with a stop on the other end, giving up consecutive baskets to St. Francis’ Deivydas Kuzavas.
Four straight points by Dachon Burke with 1:11 remaining pulled the Colonials within seven. Robert Morris came up with a steal on inbounds pass but squandered three chances to make it a two-possession game. The Red Flash hit all four their free throw attempts in the final 30 seconds to preserve the win and were 20-26 from the stripe for the game.
Robert Morris struggled to defend the pick-and-roll all night, as the Red Flash routinely found open lanes with the Colonials failing to rotate on the backside of the play. Back-to-back wins over St. Francis Brooklyn and LIU Brooklyn seemed to cover up some growing defensive issues.
“I thought some of our warts came out,” Toole said. “The details you need to slow a really good offense like St. Francis. We found ourselves in a really big hole and tried to fight back but where unable to do so.”
Despite being outrebounded by eight, St. Francis scored 19 second-chance points, and forced the Colonials into 16 turnovers.
Robert Morris dropped to 1-7 this season when trailing at the break, and the 89 points were the most Colonials had given up since allowing 95 to Ohio State in the season opener.
Burke, who picked up three first half fouls, finished with 21, and Koby Thomas recorded a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds. Leondre Washington had 12 points off the bench, and Jon Williams added nine.
McConnell totaled just five points and missed all four his three-point attempts. He is just one for his last 22 from long range.
“Right now I’m probably in one of the worst shooting slumps I’ve ever been in,” McConnell said. “I need to find a way to get out of that, but I’m not going to stop shooting.”
McConnell and his teammates will look to get back on the winning track Saturday at Fairleigh Dickinson.