While he sat on the sideline for back-to-back games in mid-February – one while serving a suspension and another nursing an ankle injury – Lucky Jones had time to think.
With only a handful of games remaining in his final college season, the Robert Morris senior’s often drifted to one subject.
“How could I make winning plays?” he recalled thinking. “How could I make senior plays? How can I just get back to being the best player I can be?”
Those questions will remain unanswered for at least the next few days as the Colonials begin their push for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010. But in the final game of the regular season, Jones began to paint of picture of how his decorated career may end.
Jones scored 20 points, six of which came in overtime, and made a handful of decisive plays late to help Robert Morris erase a 10-point second half deficit in a 71-70 victory against Saint Francis (Pa.) in overtime at the Sewall Center on Saturday.
The win allowed the Colonials (16-14, 12-6 Northeast Conference) to clinch the No. 2 seed for next week’s conference tournament.
“The only thing I was thinking about was not worrying about how my senior year went on personally, but how could I finish on a great note?” Jones said. “I don’t think I’ve played to my expectations this year and the only thing I kept thinking about was how could I improve?”
Rodney Pryor led Robert Morris with a team-high 22 points, continuing a four-game spurt in which he has averaged 25.5 points per game while shooting 60.7 percent.
Tied at 57 at the end of regulation, Saint Francis started the extra period on a 10-2 run, but Robert Morris found its way back. Four consecutive points from Jones got the Colonials within one point and, from there, freshman Marcquise Reed made a pair of free throws to give them a one-point lead.
“It was like we got hit with those paddles,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “We were resuscitated and all of the sudden momentum was on our side.”
With his team down two and only four seconds remaining, Saint Francis’ Greg Brown sunk a running jump shot, but Jones was able to draw a charge to negate the basket. He went to the free throw line and buried two free throws to seal the win.
“It’s one of those things where as a coach you see it one way and the officials saw it as a charge,” Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel said. “I certainly respect those three guys and I thought they did a great job in a hostile environment. Of course, I saw it as a block and an and-one, but they saw it differently. That’s part of the game.”
Though Toole noted that there are certainly more ideal ways of entering the postseason, he was impressed with how his team responded to an adverse situation.
And as the games wind down, he’s hoping his players, even those that aren’t seniors, adopt a similar mindset to the one that Jones has forced himself to carry.
“There are a couple of teams in our league where their seasons finished today and we get to move on,” he said. “The longer you want to continue to play the more focus you have to have and the more urgency and intensity you have to have.”
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