Robert Morris and St. Francis met for the second season in a row after becoming non-conference opponents three seasons ago after RMU joined the Horizon League entering 2020-21.
Just like the 2020 NEC Championship, Robert Morris got the better of St. Francis.
Meeting on the UPMC Events Center floor for the first time since punching their ticket to the March Madness that wasn’t due to the pandemic, RMU ended non-conference play in style.
The Colonials (6-7) recovered from a serge of offense delivered by the Red Flash (3-10) to win 77-66 before the full extension of Horizon League play begins. RMU has now won four of its last six games relying on tough defense and effective shooting.
St. Francis played solid in the first half and especially the game’s first 10 minutes, trading leads with Bobby Mo in the final game before over a week off for Christmas and the rest of the holiday season.
St. Francis grabbed a 9-8 lead over five minutes into the game and pushed it to 14-9 as RMU struggled offensively.
Josh Corbin connected on all three free throws after being fouled behind the arc to help jumpstart the RMU offense and grab a 16-14 advantage that became 21-18 with eight 12 minutes gone by. The Colonials took the lead and shook off early rust throughout the remaining minutes.
Enoch Cheeks led all scorers with 13 points in 20 minutes as RMU led 37-34 at halftime. Kahliel Spear and Corbin both scored nine while Josh Cohen and Ronell Giles paced St. Francis with nine each. Giles played nine minutes off the bench, hitting three triples.
Robert Morris shot 11-of-22 (50%) in the first 20 minutes as both teams had their moments on the offensive end. St. Francis attempted 11 more shots than RMU, making 14-of-33 (42.4%) including 5-of-11 (45.5%) from three. The Colonials were even better from deep, connecting on 6-of-10 (60%) shots due in part to two threes from both Spear and Corbin.
The Red Flash did miss three free throws out of four attempts but controlled numerous other critical categories. Rob Krimmel’s team went to the locker room with advantages in bench points (11-1), turnovers (5-8), points off turnovers (10-5), and points in the paint (18-6). One main reason why was 9-of-17 rebounds coming on the offensive glass including five from Cohen, who entered the night averaging 22.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Corbin connected on a near half-court shot from downtown to force a St. Francis timeout with 17:02 left in the game and RMU leading 49-41. Sophomore forward Trey James saw extended minutes returning from injury after playing in five during his season debut against Mount St. Mary’s.
St. Francis chipped away and grabbed a 53-51 lead thanks to a 12-2 run entering the under-12 media timeout. Chris Ford responded by scoring a quick basket and Cheeks connected on back-to-back shots inside the paint to re-grab the lead.
RMU became a different team after the break as Spear splashed a triple and St. Francis continually failed to respond on the offensive end. The Colonials quickly went ahead 60-53 with under 10 minutes remaining and reset the tone.
Battling foul trouble, Cheeks totaled two in the first half and another two before the 8:37 mark of the second, being forced to check out of the game. Kahliel Spear carried the freight. The graduate student threw down a rim-rattling dunk to increase the RMU momentum and energy.
Jackson Last did the same to trigger another timeout, finishing a layup in front of the basket plus a foul to propel RMU to a 14-1 run of its own.
Matt Mayers battled well down low creating second-chance opportunities for the Colonials to extend the lead, posting nine rebounds. Cohen and Landon Moore did all they could for the Red Flash to hand around and carry the load offensively.
The Colonials maintained a 10-point lead, 67-57, with 3:41 still to go in the game. Robert Morris never allowed St. Francis to reach within two possessions to close out the night and secure a fourth-straight win against the Red Flash.
Five players scored in double digits for RMU. Cheeks paced all Colonial scorers with 23 points on 8-of-14 field goals in 29 minutes.
Mayers was one rebound short of a double-double, posting 10 points alongside nine boards. Corbin finished with 15 points on four triples and three free throws while Jackson Last played one of his best games in a Colonial uniform totaling 11. Spear finished the night 3-of-3 from three for 14 points.
Cohen posted a double-double, leading all players in points (28) and rebounds (14). Moore finished scoring 16 points and Giles added 12. The Red Flash finished 26-of-61 (42.6%) and 6-of-18 (33.3%) from three. St. Francis out-performed RMU in rebounds (36-33), offensive boards (14-9), and points in the paint (32-28) in the defeat.
Two of the Red Flash’s three wins have come against DIII Presidents’ Athletic Conference teams in Franciscan (120-53) and Saint Vincent (88-58).
RMU head coach Andy Toole moved to 14-10 all-time against the Red Flash with the victory and the Colonials as a whole going ahead 53-38 in the series.
The Colonials face Purdue Fort Wayne on Dec. 29 at the UPMC Events Center looking to improve on their 1-1 record in conference play.
Earlier in the day, Robert Morris University honored former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Hall of Famer Franco Harris, who died suddenly Wednesday morning. Harris was 72. The Steelers are retiring his No. 32 jersey on Christmas Eve at halftime of the Raiders game, commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Immaculate Reception.
We are saddened by the passing of Steelers Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh legend, Franco Harris.
This photo shows Franco playing basketball on Robert Morris’ campus during the Steeler’s 1973 offseason. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/0ZTjrLnwpX
— Robert Morris University (@RMU) December 21, 2022