MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – “This isn’t the destination. This is just the start of the journey.”
That was Andy Toole immediately following Robert Morris’ final regular season game against Saint Francis two weeks ago, when Colonials had just earned the top-seed in the Northeast Conference tournament. But, as he eluded to, there was still more work to be done. In reference to the program’s mantra this time of year, March didn’t care. In reality, March doesn’t care about seedings, favorites, over/unders, or home-court advantage.
In March, winning is the only thing that matters. And Robert Morris has done just that.
The Colonials defeated LIU Brooklyn, 86-66, Saturday at the UPMC Events Center to advance to the Northeast Conference tournament championship for the first time since 2015. With the bid, the program has now reached the NEC final a league-record nine times.
Not bad for a team picked fifth in the NEC preseason polls.
There was pain. AJ Bramah sprained an ankle early in the second half, limped off the court before and slammed a foldable chair on the Robert Morris bench in frustration. Dante Treacy fouled out with three minutes left after getting ran over by LIU drivers on consecutive possessions – grimacing each time he hit the floor
But there was pleasure, too. Bramah slammed home a thunderous ally-oop dunk set up by Jalen Hawkins with 51.5 seconds left that sent the home crowd into an absolute frenzy. There were smiles, and laughs, and high-fives all around as the team listened to the school band’s rendition of the RMU alma mater. And most of all, there was a strong feeling of hope that this Robert Morris team could be NCAA tournament berth in a couple weeks.
Bramah led the Colonials with 18 points and five rebounds, while Josh Williams finished 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting. Treacy added 12 points, eight assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals. As a team, the Colonials outrebounded LIU, 36-25, and forced 15 turnovers.
GAME. BLOUSES. 😤😤😤 #SCTop10
— RMU Basketball (@RMUMBasketball) March 7, 2020
Robert Morris came out with urgency resemblant of a do-or-die, win-or-go-home situation, starting the game on a 16-2 run over the first five minutes of play that forced LIU coach Derek Kellogg to call a quick timeout. By that point, Bramah already had eight points while the Colonials were 7-of-9 from the field. Disruptive defense led to forced turnovers, which in turn led to points in transition – 10 of RMU’s first 24 points coming on the fast break. LIU turned to a full-court press, but it failed to affect the fluidity of the Colonials’ offensive attack. Led by crisp ball movement (the team had 13 assists by halftime – three less than their full-game season average) and efficient outside shooting from Williams and Sayveon McEwen, the Colonials entered the break with a 60-percent shooting clip and a 16-point lead.
However, as is the norm for this time of year, the Sharks wouldn’t go down lightly. They began the second half on an 8-0 run to climb within single digits and spark fear of a potential Robert Morris debacle. But RMU collected itself. Williams drilled a 3 to stop the run, seemingly instilling a sense of calmness among the rest of the lineup. And then the rest went to work. From the 16-minute mark and on, LIU never came within 12 points of tying the game. The Colonials extended their largest lead of the afternoon, 64-45, with eight minutes to go, and weathered stingy defense late to emerge victorious.
Robert Morris will face Saint Francis in the NEC tournament championship.