The Colonials faced the Evansville Purple Aces in the second game of the tournament and tried to bounce back following Friday’s narrow loss to Mercer.
It looked like that would be the case in the first half but the teams’ traded blows in the second before Evansville delivered the knockout punch in a brutal loss.
RMU (2-4) entered as one-point favorites against Evansville (2-5) but resulted in the opposite outcome, 54-53 in favor of the Purple Aces.
The club dealt with shooting woes in each loss and every game away from the UPMC Events Center. Andy Toole’s team answered the bell in the first half but failed to continue the turnaround in the second. Following Friday’s defeat to Mercer where RMU recorded one of the worst three-point performances in program history – making one of 17 attempts – the Colonials stepped up to connect on shots.
Things were different to start against a one-win Purple Aces team and the Colonials powered their way to a 37-25 first-half advantage. Robert Morris shot 13-of-26 (50%) and significantly improved from three in the first half, making 6-of-12 (50%) attempts.
Enoch Cheeks did not play for RMU due to an ankle injury sustained against Mercer, according to the RMU radio broadcast. It allowed Josh Corbin to step into the starting lineup after coming off the bench last game. Corbin came close to single-handedly out-scoring Evansville with 20 first-half points.
Kahliel Spear ended the half with a technical foul – one also assessed to Evansville’s Kenny Strawbridge Jr. – and registered nine points and five rebounds. Michael Green III also stepped into the starting five and totaled four first-half assists.
Albeit owning a unique and clever nickname, Evansville did not stand out on the offensive end. The Purple Aces totaled a 10-of-32 (31.3%) line in the game’s opening 20 minutes and trailed by as much as 14. The shooting numbers told the story, but RMU moved the ball well to the tune of nine assists and six turnovers.
Everything changed in the second half. Evansville began on a 13-2 run to cut the deficit, 39-38, seven minutes into the resumption of play.
RMU came up scoreless for close to five minutes entering the under-12 media timeout, clinging to a one-point lead. Evansville took the lead on the other side and capped an 8-0 run.
The Colonials did not record a field goal for a whopping seven minutes or 35% of the half during the midway point entering crunch time.
A Corbin layup ended the skid, but RMU shot under 10% in the half before the basket. RMU put Evansville in the bonus at the eight-minute mark. The Purple Aces took a 43-41 lead into the under-eight media timeout and improved their shooting immensely.
Both teams traded turns holding the lead, but the Colonials could not find a way to capitalize on its final possessions in a crushing loss. Jackson Last continued his struggles and did not score on Saturday.
Spear recorded two clutch free throws with under a minute remaining. Blaise Beauchamp answered by hitting a corner three with 16 seconds left in the game.
RMU received the ball back, but Green turned it over. Beauchamp missed two free throws with four seconds remaining to keep the door open for RMU. It officially shut when a three by Green missed at the buzzer to end it. After being on fire scoring 20 first-half points, Corbin only scored two the entire second half.
The Colonials shot 6-of-23 (26.1%) in the final 20 minutes and made 1-of-7 (14.3%) threes in the defeat. RMU was outscored 28-2 in bench points and committed nine 15 turnovers (nine in the second half).
Spear totaled a double-double in points (16) and rebounds (12) while Stephuan Walker added eight. Strawbridge and Beauchamp paced Evansville throughout the game. Strawbridge scored a team-high 21 points including four made threes. Beauchamp added 14 points and four rebounds. The Purple Aces shot over 42% in the second.
Robert Morris concludes the tournament Sunday afternoon against South Alabama at 2:30 p.m.