When Lucky Jones arrived back to Robert Morris after his team’s 59-48 loss to Wagner last weekend, he did so mired in his worst offensive drought of a season, a slump in which he had missed 51 of his past 64 shots.
So, naturally, he did the only thing he knew how to in that situation – take more shots.
“I kind of got my confidence back when we came back from Wagner,” Jones said. “Immediately that night, me and Chuck [Oliver] went into the gym and just started shooting a lot of shots. From that day until yesterday, we just continued to get shots.”
What happened that night in a lonely gym helped pave the way for a bounce-back performance, one that is partly responsible for the Colonials still having NCAA tournament aspirations.
The junior forward made seven of his 13 shots Wednesday night and had team highs in points (19), rebounds (seven) and assists (four) as Robert Morris overcame a scoreless performance from leading scorer Karvel Anderson in a 60-53 victory against Fairleigh Dickinson at the Sewall Center in the first round of the Northeast Conference tournament.
“I knew when I came into the game that I was going to stay confident and just let it fly,” he said.
Not even 48 hours after being named the NEC player of the year, Anderson struggled, but not without reason, as he was battling an undiagnosed illness. Entering the game averaging 19.6 points per game, he attempted a season-low three shots and sat on the bench for the final 8:37 of play.
“He wasn’t feeling well and he wasn’t being very effective out there, so we had to put people out there that were going to be effective,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.
In the gamut of a conference tournament, one in which a single loss ends a team’s year-long goal, the fact that the Colonials (20-11) were able to win despite an off day from Anderson was encouraging to those on the team.
“I have confidence going into the next game because I know he’s going to have some fire and it’s not going to be pretty for our opponents,” point guard Anthony Myers-Pate said of Anderson.
After taking a 26-24 lead into halftime, the top-seeded Colonials saw their lead grow to eight in the first eight minutes of the second half. For the most part, that advantage held for the remainder of the game, with the eighth-seeded Knights (10-21) getting no closer than five.
It was Robert Morris’ second win against Fairleigh Dickinson in the past six days and in some respects, the games followed a similar script.
“Both games when we had to score, we didn’t score,” Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda said. “We were up 15 with 8:48 to go at our place and we scored two points and then tonight, we never got in an offensive groove.
“I think it had to do with their athleticism on the top of the zone. They not only contest shots, but they contest passes. In this day and age, you don’t see that a lot in the half court. They’re really well-schooled.”
The win gave Robert Morris its sixth 20-win season in the past seven years.
The Colonials will play in the semifinals Saturday against Saint Francis, which upset third-seeded Bryant, 55-54.
Robert Morris swept the season series with the Red Flash, notching those two wins by an average of 5.5 points.
But coming off a night in which his team looked uncharacteristically jittery and sloppy at times, Toole knows his team needs to work on some things if it hopes to advance much further.
“They’ve got to relax and play,” he said. “Everything that’s been accomplished previously is now over and now everybody is 0-0. You have to go out and play. We played like a team that was afraid to lose, in all honesty.”