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Robert Morris drops 71-66 decision at Appalachian State

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Russell Johnson scored 26 points, and Robert Morris made a late charge, but the Colonials couldn't overcome a 40-11 free throw differential and Appalachian State defeated RMU 71-66 in Boone, NC, Saturday afternoon.

Donald Sims led Appalachian State with 23 points, and Omar Carter chipped in with 14, but it was the Mountaineers' size and ability to get to the free-throw line that ultimately did the Colonials in. Sims scored 12 of his 23 from the line, Carter added 8 from the stripe, and App State shot 40 free throws compared to just 11 for Robert Morris.

The Mountaineers also won the the rebounding battle 39-29, including a 12-5 advantage on the offensive glass. At one point midway through the second half, Appalachian State had 11 offensive boards to the Colonials' 1.

“If you look at the starting rosters, their size advantage doesn't really stand out,” said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole. “But when they get deeper into their bench it starts to, and they are also just so good in transition that we were mainly concerned with getting back on defense. Maybe we did give away some possessions because we didn't crash the glass as much as we could have early on.”

Robert Morris was slow out of the gate and trailed 18-9 at the 12:20 mark of the first half, but a 12-2 run around the midway point of the first half gave the Colonials a brief 21-20 lead. Johnson keyed the run with 8 of the 12 points, including two big 3-pointers.

“Russell was terrific. He is a tough match-up for anyone because of his ability of score in the post and from the perimeter,” said Toole. “He scored a lot early in the paint when they had Omar Carter on him, but then even when they switched he continued to do some damage from outside.”

Appalachian State led 32-25 at the half, but the Colonials cut the lead to 35-34 after a 9-3 rally was capped by Lijah Thompson dunks on back-to-back possessions.

“They're a scrappy, grab, hold, push, foul kind of team,” said the Mountaineers' Sims. “We just had to fight through that and get to the foul line, like I did, and convert from there. We thought our bigs could give them trouble in the paint, so we tried to feed them as much as we could, and sometimes we were abnle to get looks outside because of that. Total team effort.”

Sims went back to work after RMU pulled within a point early in the second, converting jumps shots and foul shots to help Appalachian State rebuild the lead to double digits.

“Donald Sims is just so good at using his body,” said Toole. “And getting to the foul line. Maybe with some histrionics, and baiting the refs into getting foul calls, but he gets to the line and it works. He got to the line 14 times.”

The game almost turned into a blowout as the Mountaineers' lead got as big as 16 points with a little over six minutes remaining.

App State's Jeremi Booth struggled from beyond the arc all day, going just 2 of 8, but the two he hit were huge. His first dagger came at the 8:50 mark when he buried a trey to cap a mini-ASU run and give the Mountaineers a commanding 52-39 lead, and his 3-pointer at 6:31 put a punctuation mark on things, stretching the ASU lead to 59-44.

Robert Morris battled down the  stretch, however, and Karon Abraham—held to just 8 points before fouling out with 2:30 left—hit a 3-pointer to get RMU within 7 at 61-54. A big 3-pointer from Johnson made the score 66-62 with 55 seconds to go, and when Velton Jones converted a contested lay-up in the paint with 33 seconds remaining the Colonials pulled to within a basket at 69-66.

RMU got the ball back trailing by 4 with 30 seconds to go, but they couldn't get a clean look and Coron Williams 3-pointer was off the mark.

Andre Williamson had 10 points and 8 rebounds for App State, and Jeremi Booth added 10 points and 6 boards.

Jones tallied 13 points for the Colonials and freshman Anthony Myers dished out 8 assists.

Robert Morris continues their grueling non-conference schedule with a game at Arizona on Wednesday.

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