It’s been tough sledding through a rare snowless buildup to Christmas for the Robert Morris men’s basketball team, losing nine of its first 10 games to begin the 2021-22 campaign.
On a two-game losing streak and only defeating Lancaster Bible in blowout fashion at the UPMC Events Center, the Colonials hit the road facing a former Northeast Conference rival known for the best memory to date in the young building.
In a rematch of the 2020 NEC Championship game, RMU and St. Francis faced off in Loretto, Pa after last year’s non-conference tilt was canceled; and the Colonials once again came out on top.
RMU (2-9) defeated the Red Flash (4-7) 75-67 thanks in large part to 21 points from Rasheem Dunn.
St. Francis jumped out to a 10-2 early lead six minutes into the game and looked to have revenge on their minds.
A collection of Colonials brought RMU back to life and a Justin Winston layup with 10:32 remaining cut the deficit to three.
A Maxwell Land bucket helped the Red Flash to keep the lead at 22-16, but Robert Morris would put their best foot forward for the final six minutes.
The Colonials proceeded with a 9-0 run and take a 27-22 lead before St. Francis knew what hit them and their advantage had vanished. They would never get it back, either.
RMU scored high-efficient shots critical to victory, especially being six-point underdogs entering DeGol Arena.
Andy Toole’s team took a five-point 35-30 lead into halftime on the back of nine points from Matt Mayers, once again in the starting five, to lead all Colonials. Enoch Cheeks also chipped in seven points as well as six from Dunn and also Winston off the bench.
Robert Morris took care of the ball, committing only five turnovers and out-rebounding St. Francis 20-17. Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis from Toole for RMU to find a grove moving forward. RMU shot just under 47% from the floor in the first 20 minutes but only 22% from downtown.
The Red Flash were paced by nine from Dixon-Conover but the team shot poorly overall from the field. St. Francis totaled a 33% clip both in field-goal and three-point percentage, also missing four free throws while RMU was a perfect 5-5 from the line.
Mayers continued to impress as RMU moved the lead to double figures 48-37 at the under 16 timeout after a dunk and three-pointer, providing a spark once again the program has been lacking.
St. Francis would not go away quietly.
Robert Morris scored another five unanswered to go up 53-37, but the charge was on for the Red Flash. St. Francis chipped away at the lead with 10 minutes left to make it 57-45 but RMU held strong until the final six and a half minutes.
The Red Flash made it a 10-point game thanks to a Dixon-Conover three and completed an 8-0 run to make it 54-59 and five and change left. St. Francis continued to put the pressure on RMU to hold up down the stretch, something the team has failed to do in recent weeks, but Toole’s team was up for the challenge.
With less than a minute to go clinging to a four-point lead 71-67, two four throws from Rasheem Dunn capped off the night for the Colonials to seal the 75-67 victory.
Dunn led the game with 21 points including 15 in the second half to go alongside 16 points and 11 rebounds from Mayers and 13 points provided by Cheeks. RMU shot over 48% for the game compared to just under 39% for the Red Flash, turning it over 11 times and once leading by 16.
Dixon-Conover guided St. Francis with 20 points. Myles Thompson (14), Ronell Giles Jr. (12), and Land (11) were also in double figures.
Robert Morris plays at Oakland (7-4) as Horizon League play ramps up next Thursday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m