After it was announced earlier Thursday that leading scorer Rasheem Dunn was leaving the program, the Robert Morris Men’s Basketball Team gave Cleveland State all that it could handle but fell 78-77 Friday night at the UPMC Events Center.
“Obviously disappointed that we were one point short but really proud of the fight the guys showed for 40 minutes,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “That from here on out has got to be non-negotiable. There were a few-too-many possessions late where we just were a step slow or a second short. We’ll continue to fight and battle, and 1 o’clock will be here quickly on Sunday.”
Robert Morris (2-12/0-5 Horizon) was led by Kahliel Spear’s career high 24 points, which came on 10-of-13 shooting while he also contributed six rebounds.
Enoch Cheeks contributed 12 points towards RMU’s cause, while Jaron Williams totaled 11 points come game’s end.
Cleveland State (9-3/5-0 Horizon) had Torrey Patton lead the way with 18 points, while Tre Gomillion had 14 points, before fouling out in the final minute. Yahel Hill and D’Moi Hodge swishes 12 and 11 points respectively.
RMU lost the contest despite shooting 54.7% from the field and winning the rebounding battle by seven.
Early on, Cleveland State showed why it was undefeated in Horizon League play leading 14-9 after the opening minutes.
The Vikings were led by Gomillion who entered play averaging 9.2 points a game and already he totaled eight points as he got the team off to its fast start, firing at a 75% clip from the field.
Coming out of the first media timeout, Robert Morris began moving the ball offensively and locking down defensively.
Cleveland State was held without a basket for 4:39 of game action as RMU noticeably made its opponent uncomfortable on both ends.
Spear took advantage of some steady ball movement and also despite his 7-for-8 shooting clip in the first half, was never double teamed.
Robert Morris extended its first-half advantage by as many as six points and was poised to add to this lead, but committed seven miscues in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Even still, its defense kept the advantage on its side and RMU held a 37-35 lead at halftime.
Cleveland State struck first in the scoring department, tying the contest, but RMU would have the better of it, extending the lead back to six points.
Despite holding the lead, RMU was not finding success with scoring for much of the second half as Cleveland State began to take the paint away.
RMU’s Justin Winston would place the Colonials back up by six points, but then turnovers allowed Cleveland State back into the game.
Heading into the under-eight media timeout, Chase Cook elected to pursue a ball heading out of bounds, trying to extend RMU’s offensive possession, instead of heading into the stoppage with some momentum and regrouping right then and there.
Jayson Woodrich came up with the ball and his layup provided a different tone to both sides respective huddles.
Hill came out of the pause with a three-point basket which put Cleveland State back in the lead.
The teams would play evenly until a Woodrich three pointer created some separation. Two Hodge free throws then placed RMU in a five-point hole.
Kam Farris’s and-one play would separate the teams by two points heading to the final media stoppage.
Hodge’s layup was answered by a three-point shot from Cheeks and ultimately inside of two minutes, there was a tie.
RMU’s miscues had it down by four points as the Vikings converted their free throws.
Cheeks converted an and-one play with 16.9 seconds remaining which kept Cleveland State honest as Hill calmly sank two free throws despite being pressured by an RMU timeout.
After mishandling the inbounds pass, Robert Morris quickly got into offense with Farris opting to go inside the paint in an effort to initiate contact, none of which was to be found as he easily scored a layup with two seconds remaining.
“It was too late,” said Toole. “We were screaming it on the sideline, but it’s hard sometimes when you’re in the moment. I personally felt once it got deflected, Mike probably should’ve picked it up and tried to dribble it and now we can play four-on-five, but immediately he tried to pick it up and throw it to Kahliel and then it was a jailbreak from there. Kam is obviously really frustrated with that decision he made but he made some big plays for him late.”
Cleveland State then threw a home run pass allowing the game to finish as Spear retreated to a corner off the court disappointed by the close call.
Robert Morris will have to recover quickly as it hosts Purdue Fort Wayne Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in a contest carried by ESPN+.
“The only way we can try to make the best of it is to stay positive,” said Toole. “We want to make sure the fight is at the level it needs to be at, and we’ll figure it out from there. If we don’t win a game for the rest of the year, but we fight like crazy, that’s what you respect. That’s what you look at and say, ‘that team, those guys are about the right stuff.’ If you are about the right stuff, then eventually good things start to happen for you if you stay with it.”