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Robert Morris advances in NEC Tournament with win over Fairleigh Dickinson

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Lucky Jones had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists to lead Robert Morris over Fairleigh Dickinson 60-53 in the NEC Tournament quarterfinals.

Since early-January, when Robert Morris lost six players to off-the-court issues, the Colonials stunned teams by shooting the 3, defending the 3, and grabbing defensive rebounds.

But for obvious reasons, the Colonials’ bench didn’t particularly oppress opposing teams.

Wednesday night, the Robert Morris bench added 15 critical points in the NEC Tournament opening-round game, leading the No. 1-seed Colonials (20-12, 14-2 NEC) to a 60-53 win over No. 8-seed Fairleigh Dickinson (10-21, 6-10 NEC), despite losing leading scorer and NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson for part of the night.

Anderson “wasn’t feeling well,” in the words of Robert Morris coach Andy Toole, and sat out the final 8:37 with the Robert Morris ahead 43-37.

“We stuck together as a family,” said guard Anthony Myers-Pate, who finished with 10 points. “That just goes to show that the team is more powerful than the individual.”

The defensive clash, played before 1,117 at the Sewall Center, featured a showdown between Anderson and Fairleigh Dickinson’s Sidney Sanders, Jr., who is second to Anderson in NEC scoring (19.2, fourth in assists (5.93) and is an All-NEC selection.

Sanders, who finished with 16 points, and Mustafaa Jones took turns face-guarding Anderson throughout the first half.

Robert Morris spent the majority of its defensive night in a 2-3 zone. The Knights were just 3-of-17 from 3-point land, and they scored 34 of their 53 in the paint.

“I think we focused in on taking away the 3-point shot from our opponents,” Myers-Pate said. “We’ve been locked in in practice with making the right reeds.”

Fairleigh Dickinson jumped out to a 10-8 lead early and trailed by just two at the half, thanks to seven offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points.

But the Colonials erased most forms of defensive error in the second half, made 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and forward Lucky Jones finished with 19 points to beat the team that had almost upset them last week.

“I was just feeding off my team, and when they told me to let it go, I just let it go,” Jones said.

Stephan Hawkins added three blocks and eight points against Fairleigh Dickinson’s big man Scooter Gillette, who averages 1.5 blocks per game.

Hawkins was able to counter Gillette’s length with a couple 15 and 17-foot jump shots.

With the win, the Colonials moved to the semifinal round, where they will take on No. 5-seed Saint Francis (Brooklyn) Saturday at 2 p.m in Coraopolis.

Toole, named NEC Coach of the Year over the weekend, added that he “would be surprised” if Anderson is unable to go against the Terriers.

Earlier in the week, Toole expressed his distaste in the NCAA’s automatic bid rule to those who win conference tournaments rather than regular-season championships.

After the win, he said that his team must accept the rule and play to win.

“Everything that’s been accomplished previously is now over and now everybody is zero-and-zero,” Toole said.  “But everyone’s just got to relax and play the game.”

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