Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Thursday night’s game at the UPMC Events Center was anything but pretty, especially for the Colonials.
A few days after Valentine’s Day, it was last-place IUPUI (3-22, 1-13 Horizon League) feeling the love in Moon Township, defeating 10th place Robert Morris (7-20, 5-13) by a 66-56 final score to win its first conference match and third overall game of the season.
IUPUI scored the game’s first three field goals before RMU drained one of their own, but set the tone that the visitors should not be taken lightly.
RMU trailed 6-5 at the first media timeout, starting the game with Michael Green III, Kahliel Spear, Enoch Cheeks, Jaron Williams, and Matt Mayers.
The Jaguars entered the game with only one player on their bench, thus playing all six available, with freshman guard Boston Stanton III the lone man secluded on the bench to begin play.
Robert Morris continued to trail 12-7 with under 12 minutes remaining and looked out of sorts offensively. IUPUI did not look much better but encouraging for a team entering the night without a conference win.
The Jaguars looked like the better team the first 10 minutes as the Colonials struggled to make close shots and turned the ball over.
“Credit IUPUI. I thought they played incredibly well,” head coach Andy Toole said. “They’ve been faced with such tough circumstances the entire year… the certainly deserved the win.”
RMU came out flat and did not look remotely close to the team who defeated Youngstown State four days ago.
Kam Farris knocked down a triple to give the Colonials their first lead at 14-12 before IUPUI tied it on the next possession seconds before a timeout on the floor.
The pace slowed entering the last 10 minutes until halftime with stoppages and free throws. B.J. Maxwell made two-of-three free throws after being fouled shooting right next to the RMU bench. Williams traveled the next trip down the floor and committed an offensive foul immediately after.
Both teams were extremely sloppy with the basketball, but a Green III feed to Brandon Stone for two plus a successful shot at the line drove Robert Morris to trim the lead to one.
IUPUI was in front 22-21 and 3:49 to go at the final media timeout before halftime.
The remaining time was very similar to the entire first half with the score tied at 24 after 20 minutes.
The first half in one word was… ugly.
“We also got what we deserved, which was a loss,” Toole said. “That’s something that’s incredibly disappointing. Credit IUPUI they kicked our butt.”
RMU shot 6-for-18 (33.3%) including 1-of-8 (12.5%) from behind the three-point arc. The team out-rebounded IUPUI 12-9.
IUPUI held the lead for an astonishing amount of time, 16:14, and outscored RMU 18-8 in the paint. The team made 11-of-25 shots and missed all six three-point attempts.
Maxwell led all scorers with 10 of the 24 points and Bakari LaStrap contributed eight.
Mayers paced RMU with six as seven of the eight players seeing minutes cracked the score sheet.
The scoring picked up rapidly as well as the quality of play from both teams.
IUPUI and RMU traded baskets before Spear picked up a technical foul entering the under-16 media timeout and the Jaguars up by two.
RMU took a one-point advantage to the next break in action with less than 12 minutes in the game. The energy increased with a Stone dunk through traffic and the Colonials clinging to a 39-38 lead.
Two Chuks Isitua free throws once again changed the lead before RMU got it back.
The Jaguars did not look at all like a winless Horizon League team, leading 45-44 despite an outstanding block by Cheeks on a LaStrap breakaway.
Tonight’s game felt like it could be close from the opening tip by the struggles both teams faced. Neither squad wanted to pull away by even two or three possessions.
A Nathan McClure triple followed by a missed layup by Spear created doubt the Colonials could defend homecourt.
The moment came for one of the teams to strike, and IUPUI was up for the challenge. Thanks to an eight-point run, the Jaguars silenced the UPMC Events Center to obtain the largest lead of the game in front 58-49.
Maxwell put the nail in the game’s coffin by hitting a three-pointer from the right side corner as the shot clock was expiring to make it 61-52 and just over a minute left.
IUPUI closed out the Colonials and stunned the entire building with one of the largest student sections of the year.
12 points for Mayers was the high for Robert Morris with Spear totaling double figures adding 11. Green III and Cheeks scored six apiece as well.
Toole talked to his team during the week about respecting the game and their opponent leading up to the game.
“I think a lot of it comes back to not respecting the game the way you’re supposed to respect the game and giving it the effort it deserves,” Toole said. “When you disrespect things you usually get disrespected back.”
Kam Farris was noticeably absent late in the game and struggled, shooting 1-of-six and making one triple.
“Practice harder,” Toole said about why Farris is struggling and how he can break out of it. “Getting after it in practice… Get in the gym and get shots. Great ones when they are not making shots they go in the gym and they shoot until they make them. We talked a little last week some of his decision-making was slow, he made a big shot against Youngstown State. Maybe he thought his timing was back… defensively I didn’t think he did a very good job of being able to do what he needed to do and we had a lot of excuses, not Kam but everybody.”
Maxwell took over scoring 18 points alongside 18 from LaStrap to win it. It didn’t matter that the Jaguars only played six, but LaStrap fouled out and Isitua had four fouls to almost make for an interesting situation for IUPUI.
The Jaguars shot 75% in the second half compared to 42% for RMU to collect a 23-for-46 mark (50%) for victorious IUPUI. The team had the lead for 20:27 compared to 5:24 for RMU.
Robert Morris turned the ball over 15 times in the loss.
The Colonials host UIC, who recently was granted permission to compete in Horizon League tournaments after being banned last week due to announcing its decision to leave the conference at season’s end, on Saturday to conclude the regular season home schedule. Tip-off from the UPMC Events Center is at 7 p.m.