The Robert Morris Colonials (10-7, 4-0) took on the Saint Francis University Red Flash (10-5, 3-1) in a battle of NEC supremacy at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday. Depending on the outcome of the Wagner Seahawks and Bryant Bulldogs match-up, then the winner of this game could control the NEC as the number one team in the conference.
The highly anticipated match-up started out with both teams trading shots. Andre Wolford would lead the way for the Red Flash as he would make three out of four shots to start the game. That would cause the Colonials to fall behind 13-10 before the first media timeout.
After the first media timeout, the two teams struggled to add to their scoreboard. The Colonials would especially struggle, as they would only add four points before the second media timeout. At this point, St. Francis led Robert Morris 22-14. St. Francis was aided by strong shooting as they shot exactly 50% in the first ten minutes of the contest.
“They got a couple open shots in the beginning and then kept coming back to that,” said senior guard Matty McConnell. “…you can’t give a team that is shooting 40% from three easy looks at the beginning and keep giving them easy looks through the game.”
Just like coming back from the first media timeout, Robert Morris would have start with a couple foul shots. This time the Colonials would miss them, but Koby Thomas would give them two points. Dachon Burke, who was shooting 75% and had seven points at the time, would get into a bit of foul trouble. After losing perhaps their most talent player for a solid chunk of the half, the Colonials would fall behind 28-18 and experience a double digit deficit. However, two baskets, including a great transition by senior guard Matty McConnell, would bring the Colonials within six. The Red Flash would not be outdone though, and the second media timeout would happen with the score 32-24 in favor of Saint Francis University.
St. Francis would come out of the last break of action with a foul shot and extend the score to 33-24. The Colonials would bring it within six again at 35-29. At this point, a questionable foul call on Jon Williams would lead to a technical on Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole. St. Francis would use that as the catalyst to a 12-0 run. That gave them their largest lead of the first half (18) at 47-29. A three pointer by star Freshman Koby Thomas would make it 47-32 heading into the last media timeout of the first half.
“I didn’t think we were there mentally or physically. We just looked down, but we let them get up early and just could never fight our way back into single digits. Sometimes we were down eight or 10, but I think that’s as close as we got,” McConnell said.
The last two minutes of the half, wouldn’t see much action as both teams would play tight defense and struggle offensively. Robert Morris would go on a 5-1 run before a technical foul coming from the mouth of Leondre Washington would give the Red Flash two shots and the ball. They would make both and a layup to extend their lead to 15 at 52-37.
At the half, Koby Thomas (10) would be the only Robert Morris Colonial to eclipse the 10 point mark. He would be followed by Dachon Burke (9) while no other Colonial had more than four points. The team, as a whole, was shooting 13-28 (46.4%) from the field. Their usually strong three point shooting wasn’t there in the first as the team made just four of their fourteen attempted shots from behind the arc.
As for Saint Francis, they would see three players eclipse the ten point mark in the first with Keith Braxton (12), Jamaal King (16) and Andre Wolford (17). They shot over 50% in the first, 56.3% to be exact, making 18 out of 32 shots.
“Give a lot of credit to Saint Francis,” said coach Toole, “I thought the game was played on their terms for 40 minutes. They did what they do. They score, they execute, they made shots, they don’t turn it over. That’s what they did tonight.”
The second half started similar to the first with both teams exchanging a similar amount of baskets. RMU would manage to outscore SFU 9-8, cutting the Saint Francis lead to 14 at 60-46 going into the first media timeout of the second half.
Robert Morris would continue to outscore The Red Flash into the second half, but not by enough to make their opponent nervous. The second media timeout would happen at 11:18 with RMU cutting the St. Francis lead down another point at 13. The score would be 65-52
Immediately coming out of the second media timeout of the second half, Dachon Burke would hit a three to pull RMU within 10 at 65-55. This would also put Burke (11) over the 10 point mark, joining Koby Thomas who had 16 at this point.
St. Francis would go on a 7-3 run at this point, to make the lead 74-58. Another three pointer, this time by Daniel Wallace (5) would pull RMU within 13 at 74-61, but The Red Flash would hit another basket to make it 76-61 going into the next media timeout of the game.
With 7:42 remaining, it is clear that Robert Morris, down 76-61, would need a strong run if they wanted any chance at winning this one. Neither team would manage a run to start things out as the deficit would still be at 15 with five minutes left to play. Not even Koby Thomas’s 20 points would be enough to change the lead significantly.
With 5 minutes left, Robert Morris would need a lot to pull this one out. A three by Leondre Washington (11) would put him over 10 and cut the lead to 13 at 83-70. Robert Morris would then call their first timeout with 4:37 left in the game. About 30 seconds later a tip in by Chris Coalmon (5) would bring the Colonials within 11. Another basket would cut the lead to nine with 1:59 left to go.
Robert Morris was now trailing 83-74, but appeared to have all the momentum. A great rebound by Koby Thomas (9) followed by a phenomenal transition layup by Dachon Burke (17) would bring the Colonials within seven.
“Our effort was better (in the second half), our urgency was better, our positioning was better, our move on the flight on the ball was better,” said coach Toole on the improvement in the second half.
The Colonials would get the ball back on great defense. They would fail to score, but Saint Francis would not be able to move the ball up the court. Robert Morris would get the ball coming out of a RMU timeout with 46.7 left in the game. They trailed 83-76.
They would come out firing with three pointers, attempting to put a dagger in the comeback, but would not connect on any. Saint Francis would extend their lead by four on a layup and two free throws. With RMU in foul mode, Saint Francis would make all their free throws and leave RMU with a 89-80 victory.
“Our defense did not stand up to the challenge that they showed us,” coach Toole said, “some of our worst came out, some of those details that you need to slow a really good offense like Saint Francis. We found ourselves in a big hole and trying to fight back and we were unable to do so.”
Despite the loss, there are plenty of things to take away from what ended up being an exciting game. The Colonials were able to come back and pull within 7, after being doing as much as 18 earlier in the game. Furthermore, Dachon Burke (21) and Koby Thomas (20) were able to continue producing. Burke took a while to get going, but Thomas was his usual dominant self throughout the whole game. RMU also managed to out rebound The Red Flash 41-33.
As for things to improve, the Colonials shot an abysmal 28.1% from the three point line. Three pointing is usually one of their strong suits. They also couldn’t manage a three in crunch time. Even Burke, who had 21 points and shot 50% overall, only managed to connect on two of his eight attempted three pointers. Coach Andy Toole also stressed the need to improve defensively.
“We didn’t do anything defensively. We allowed them to shoot open shots, allowed them to dribble to the basket. We didn’t compete on the defensive side of the floor,” said Toole.
The Colonials (10-8, 4-1) next game will be against Fairleigh Dickinson (5-10, 2-2) as they look to now keep pace with St. Francis and Wagner at the top of the NEC.