With more student managers on the bench than players, the margin of error has been small for Robert Morris for the past month.
Despite their 8-1 record with in that span, the Colonials’ success was built on a fragile foundation. Much like a tower of Jenga blocks, if one piece was removed -- regardless of how seemingly small it was – everything could crumble.
Thursday night, with an injury to the team’s (literal) biggest piece, it appeared that what Robert Morris had managed to avoid for the previous four weeks was coming to fruition.
That was, until it didn’t.
Center Stephan Hawkins, the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-9, went down with an ankle injury midway through the first half, prompting LIU Brooklyn to build a double-digit lead for much of the game before the Colonials scored 28 of the game’s final 36 points for a 73-64 victory at the Sewall Center.
“I feel like we’ve worked too hard throughout the conference season to let this one slip away,” guard Karvel Anderson said. “We let one slip away earlier in the season and we knew this would be another one we’d regret. We’ve worked too hard, we’ve come too far, we’ve overcome some adverse things and LIU wasn’t going to be the thing to beat us.”
Trailing by 16 points early in the second half, Anderson spearheaded Robert Morris’ late run, scoring all of his game-high 26 points in the final 18 minutes.
After staring down a 56-45 deficit with 8:52 remaining, the Colonials (17-11, 12-1 Northeast Conference) finished the game on a 28-8 run to secure its 12th victory in its past 13 games. The win gave them at least a share of the conference championship.
Early on, it looked like they would need no such surge, as they rushed out to a 24-17 lead.
But once Hawkins went down, the game’s complexion rapidly began to change.
In the final 11:23 of the first half, Robert Morris made only two field goals and saw the Blackbirds (8-17, 3-9) go on a 22-5 run after Hawkins left the game to take a 39-29 halftime lead.
They maintained a double-digit lead for much of the second half, but with nine minutes remaining, the Colonials made a run of their own.
Holding LIU Brooklyn to just one made field goal in almost nine minutes, Robert Morris took a 64-61 lead with 2:08 remaining. It was their first lead since the 7:47 mark of the first half and they did not trail for the remainder of the game.
“We were kind of along for the ride just like everyone else was,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “At some point in time -- I’m not exactly sure when it was -- guys just rallied together and started playing with an energy, enthusiasm and togetherness that was fun to watch. It was an incredible effort and incredible comeback.”
Guard David Appolon added a career-high 13 points for the Colonials.
Toole said he doesn’t know the extent of Hawkins’ injury or how long he may be out, but the possibility looms that Robert Morris could have only seven players now.
However, for a team that has somehow managed to excel through losing streaks, suspensions and defections, the players see it as just another hurdle waiting to be cleared.
“Overcoming adversity is just something that we do,” Anderson said. "We enjoy doing it and we’re getting pretty good at it.”