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Drinnon leads St. Francis over Robert Morris

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Rodney Pryor contributed a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but Ronnie Drinnon answered with 17 and 16 to lead St. Francis over Robert Morris 68-57 Thursday evening at the Sewall Center.

MOON TOWNSHIP, PA – With the departure of forward Elijah Minnie from Robert Morris University’s men’s basketball program, the Colonials lost their second leading scorer (12 points per game) and rebounder (6.6 per game).

Add in the struggling Rodney Pryor, who leads RMU in both categories, and that leads to a very short bench both in numbers and in height.

The lack of depth was a large factor on Thursday, as the Colonials (7-19, 5-8) fell at home to Northeast Conference foe Saint Francis University (13-11, 9-4), 68-57. 

Pryor has played the past six games after sustaining a concussion in January, but he has not quite returned to the form he had at the beginning of the season when he nearly averaged a double-double.

Although Pryor finished with a double-double off of 14 points and 10 rebounds, he could not make up for lack of size down low and his team’s “mental breakdowns” on defense, per head coach Andy Toole.

The Colonials were outrebounded 35-31 in the contest, and gave up nine 3-pointers while only knocking down 4-of-21 (19 percent) themselves.

“For three days, we work on (rotating on defense),” Toole said. “And then the first play—you’re not tired yet, you are not nervous yet, you should be fresh—the first play, we break down.”

Mental mistakes plagued this team that fails to convert open shooting opportunities, especially from the outside. Toole noted that the Red Flash were fully aware of his team’s poor 3-point shooting, so they just backed off and let the Colonials beat themselves with bad shots.

Freshman guard Isaiah Still was inactive for the game due to a “violation of RMU athletic department policy,” which then was stretched to two additional games, Toole said. That was a huge loss to a team that had difficulty scoring. Still, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Week, had point totals of 25, 19 and 22 in the past three contests.

“We missed (Still) obviously,” said forward Billy Giles. “With or without him, we knew it was going to be a battle. But having him on the floor is definitely a plus.”

Robert Morris came out of the start with a lot of energy, which was something Toole said was lacking up to this point in the season. The team took an early 16-10 lead after two Matty McConnell threes sparked the Colonials.

McConnell had an “extra pep in (his) step” to start the game as his older brother, Philadelphia 76ers’ guard TJ McConnell, was inside Charles L. Sewall Center to watch him play for the first time all season.

“Yeah, it’s always nice to having him here,” McConnell said. “I probably haven’t seen him in four or five months, so it was nice looking up in the stands and seeing his face there.”

However, as would be the case when only eight players take the floor, RMU could not maintain that same intensity on both sides of the ball and relinquished the lead, eventually trailing at halftime, 38-29.

Again, Robert Morris fought its way back into the game in the beginning of the half, outscoring Saint Francis 15-3 in the first eight minutes to take a three-point lead. But a quick layup and subsequent free-throw conversion at the other end by forward Ronnie Drinnon “sucked all the energy out of us (Robert Morris),” according to McConnell.

SFU then went on a 16-5 run over the span of seven minutes to put the game firmly out of reach. The Colonials simply could not knock down outside jumpers, while the Red Flash made the most of their opportunities.

Giles joined Pryor as the only Colonials with double-digit point totals, as he scored 11 to go along with six rebounds. Saint Francis’ Drinnon was the biggest star of the night, as he scored a game-high 17 points to go along with 16 boards, including four on the offensive end.

“It’s just about coming out with a consistent effort as long as coach has me in there,” Drinnon said. “Being relentless on the boards, that’s where I think I can help this team. As a senior leader, I know that I need to come in and get on the offensive and defensive glass.”

The loss brings Robert Morris’ conference record down to 5-8, which is good for eighth in the NEC, while the Red Flash move into sole possession of first place. The Colonials will next travel to take on Fairleigh Dickinson on Feb. 13.

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