Following a dominant road victory Thursday night against Wright State, Robert Morris turned its attention to another top Horizon League contender. The Colonials faced Northern Kentucky in Highland Heights, Kentucky Saturday night looking to deliver a second-state statement win.
RMU (3-6, 1-1 Horizon League) depended on strong contests at the hoop and a solid defensive presence similar to Thursday in approaching NKU (5-4, 2-0). In the final moments, though, the more experienced team and program rose to the challenge. Northern Kentucky prevailed 60-56 to hand Robert Morris its first conference loss.
Both teams took turns trading baskets in the early going. RMU held a seven-point advantage at the end of the first half leading 30-23 on the road. The Colonials made 12-of-24 (50%) field goals including 3-of-7 (42.9%) behind the three-point arc.
Four of the five starters for Robert Morris scored in the first half, led by seven from Enoch Cheeks. Josh Corbin added six on 2-of-4 shooting, all threes, and two assists. Jackson Last continued his improved play once the calendar turned to conference play. Last made both of his attempts, including a triple, to record five points.
Northern Kentucky collapsed in on Kahliel Spear during the first 20 minutes and forced the fifth year forward into an altered role. Spear registered two points but added two assists. Spear also added four steals and ended the game totaling a new career-high five. Matt Mayers performed well off the bench to tie the team lead in points (seven) and rebounds (four).
The Norse shot 10-of-22 (45.5%) to score 23 points and committed seven fouls. NKU turned the ball over 12 times but out-rebounded RMU 15-10. Trevon Faulkner paced all scorers with 10 points off the NKU bench, making 4-of-5 attempts. Marques Warrick entered action averaging over 22 points per game and 2.4 steals but was neutralized. Warrick made 1-of-6 attempts for two points.
RMU eventually pushed the lead to eight, the largest by either team, but couldn’t capitalize on the near double-digit advantage.
Warrick converted a three-point play to grab a 31-30 lead two minutes into the second half. RMU grabbed the lead back and foreshadowed a back-and-forth affair.
RMU pushed NKU into the bonus with 14:45 left in the game and six fouls called on the team. Spear energized the entire Colonial team hitting a contested layup and drawing a foul to put RMU ahead by five, 41-36, at the 12:29 mark
Michael Green III knocked down a three to grab a three-point lead at 48-45. NKU emphatically responded and took over the scoreboard with a run of its own. Last fouled out with over five and a half minutes left and not scoring in the second half.
Andy Toole called timeout with just under four minutes remaining and his team suddenly trailing by five. The Norse capitalized on RMU mistakes and missed opportunities on the offensive end to push the Colonials down a rabbit hole difficult to escape from. Immediately after the Toole timeout, RMU turned the ball over right back to NKU leading into the under-four timeout.
The extra time to discuss a final game plan and one fewer possession proved did not materialize positive results. RMU played sloppily down the stretch but a Corbin three from the left wing kept the team alive. The bucket put RMU within one, 57-56, and 76 seconds still to play.
NKU hit one free throw to make it a two-point game. RMU had a chance to tie the game with one final possession but a pass by Cheeks in the paint was intercepted and followed up by a technical foul on Toole upset about no foul being called in the lane.
Neither team shot well in the second half. The Norse outscored RMU 37-26 in the final 20 minutes with four players reaching double figures. Faulkner paced all players with 14 points while Warrick (13), Xavier Rhodes (12), and Sam Vinson (11) delivered at home.
NKU finished shooting 40.4% and making 6-of-18 (33.3%) threes but did what was necessary to hold on.
Spear broke out offensively to tie Cheeks for the team lead in points (13) plus six rebounds, two blocks, and no turnovers. RMU ended the night with four blocks but lost the rebounding battle 36-25. The Colonials were killed on the offensive glass as NKU totaled 13 compared to only four RMU offensive boards. The teams combined for 30 turnovers and 35 fouls.
Robert Morris faces Central Michigan in its seventh-straight game away from home on Wednesday. The action begins at 7 p.m.