Moon Township, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Robert Morris Colonials serve as host to the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary's in the title game of the 33rd annual Northeast Conference Tournament.
By producing the best overall conference record in the NEC this season at 14-2, the Colonials earned the right to host games throughout the tournament. The team began a run towards an eighth NEC title with a 60-53 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in the quarterfinals and continued with a 60-57 win versus Saint Francis (PA) on Saturday afternoon, moving the squad to an impressive 36-22 in the event overall.
As for the Mountaineers, the fourth seed this time around, they barely squeaked by fifth-seeded St. Francis (NY) in the quarterfinals last Wednesday by a score of 72-71. On Saturday afternoon, the team had a little more breathing room against second-seeded Wagner, although not much as Mount claimed a 77-72 victory in order to advance.
In terms of the all-time series, the Colonials are holding on to a 30-26 advantage over Mount, sweeping the season series with a 77-69 victory on the road back in January and then posting a 69-61 win in this same building a month later. Robert Morris has won 16 of the last 20 meetings overall.
One of these two teams has appeared in the championship round of the tourney each year since 2008, when the Mountaineers captured a 68-55 win over Sacred Heart. Last year Mount came up far short against Long Island (91-70) in the finals, and the two years prior to that it was RMU that bowed to Long Island.
Against Wagner at the Spiro Sports Center on Staten Island, the Mountaineers saw four players score in double figures, led by Rashad Whack with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field. Sam Prescott and Julian Norfleet added 16 points apiece, the latter handing out seven assists as well. Off the bench it was Gregory Graves with 12 points and a team-best seven rebounds who provided a lift for the Mountaineers.
The 77 points scored over the weekend by Mount wasn't that far off from what the program has been producing all season long (75.9 ppg), but while the Mountaineers have displayed a healthy offense, the defense has not been as cooperative while allowing 78.2 ppg. Whack and Norfleet are almost interchangeable when it comes to pacing the program, putting up 17.6 and 17.5 ppg, respectively, although the latter has been unstoppable as a passer with a staggering 172 assists in 31 outings.
Karvel Anderson scored a game-high 21 points, hitting all 12 of his attempts at the free-throw line, as the Colonials held off the Red Flash of St. Francis in the semifinals at the Sewall Center over the weekend. Lucky Jones chipped in with 18 points and seven rebounds for the top-seeded Colonials as they rebounded from a double-digit deficit in the first half to capture the win. Robert Morris put the game away by shooting a sizzling 68.8 percent from the floor, as well as 20-of-23 at the free-throw line.
From a defensive standpoint in these two tourney games, the Colonials have limited the opposition to only 35.9 percent shooting from the floor and an even more dismal 11-of-44 (.250) behind the 3-point line, resulting in minimal damage done by the Knights and Red Flash. Jones is averaging 18.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg through the first two NEC Tournament bouts, taking more than twice as many shots from the floor (28) as anyone else on the squad.