"No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."- L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz
Game #9-350: Robert Morris Colonials at Saint Francis (NY) TerriersJanuary 31, 2013 7:00 pm
Physical Ed. Center
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Perhaps nothing can encapsulate the St. Francis Brooklyn experience better than what I saw coming into the Pope Physical Education
Center Thursday night.
I was early, but not ridiculously so, and I happened to be coming in at the same time as a couple of Robert Morris parents. They asked for Will Call, and looked incredulously at the Campus Ministry window
that doubles at the ticket office before grabbing their tickets. One was trying to explain to someone else who was coming to the game on his phone
where to park.
"I don't really know. I got lucky and found a spot down the street. Just have to do the best you can."
Finally, as I got my ticket and walked past the student
lounge and the adjacent fish tank toward the gym, a women and her young son stopped.
"Excuse me, do you know where the gym is?"
I smiled. "It's right through that door on the left."
Another quizzical look, "That's it? Right there? I just walked by it a few seconds ago. Thanks."
I love this place. Where else can I grab my seat in the fourth row seat at midcourt while being able to charge my phone
behind me at the same time?
Not to mention the walk (with some extra light as we approach February) across the Brooklyn Bridge (if you can't tell, the Statue of Liberty is in the background there).
However, my main reason for coming Thursday was the see Robert Morris, the self-described "Evil Empire" of the NEC. The self being me, of course., in this case. Part of it is that the Colonials are out of Pittsburgh, which isn't anywhere near the core of the NEC in New
York and New England.
Most of it, though, has to do with the Colonials' success, and for me personally, a night in March of 2010. Quinnipiac was hosting the NEC Tournament title game, and I was a moderate fan and was able to secure two of the last tickets at the brand new TD Bank Center, which was bathed in yellow for the occasion. But Robert Morris and their wild and crazy coach Mike Rice stole the show, prevailing 52-50, and breaking the hearts of the sell-out crowd
. Quinnipiac has never really been the same.
The Colonials' NEC record speaks for itself: 71-19 over a five-year span, but they did fall in the NEC title game the last two seasons to Long Island. They began this conference season with back-to-back losses, though, leading me to believe that maybe their time was finally at hand. However, injuries played a big part, and Robert Morris had run off six straight wins coming into Brooklyn for this game.
After beating Quinnipiac and taking Villanova to overtime in the NCAA Tournament a week later, Rice jumped the Red Line to Rutgers, where his antics have been under a little more scrutiny
when he's not winning as much. Funny how that works.
Robert Morris handed the reigns over to 29-year-old Andrew Toole. Now there's 29 and there's 29? If you haven't seen Toole in person, he makes Brad Stevens look like a grandfather, even now in his third season in charge, and the ripe old age of 32. To make us old-timers feel even older (and because I walked by the World Trade Center on the way to the game), 9/11 happened on his 21st birthday, when he was leading Penn to Ivy League success.
Five minutes into the game, sophomore David Appolon came off the bench and promptly got a technical foul for something he said toward a St. Francis player. That will quickly get you back to the sidelines, and it did in this case. When Appolon tried to plead his case to his head coach, Toole yelled, "You hurt our team. I don't care what they said or did, you hurt our team!"
Now, I work in a high school, and I heard Toole's fairly unintimidating voice and wondered whether that message would really get through to a Division I athlete, especially a men's basketball player.
Toole was correct, though, to be angry. Robert Morris led 11-4 at the time of the incident, and things would quickly go downhill for his Colonials soon after.
Of course, Toole had other concerns on this night. Those darn injuries again. Already without Lijah Thompson, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury, just 90 seconds into the game, senior guard Velton Jones ran into a screen and went down like he's been hit by a sniper, screaming in pain, so much so that it was originally hard to tell what was the afflicted body part. It turned out that he had been nursing a sore shoulder and aggravated it. After spending a few minutes getting wrapped on the sidelines, Jones gave it the old college try, but he lasted only about 30 seconds before he was shut down for the evening. It's hard to play at a high level with only one arm.
It's also hard to play without your leader, second-leading scorer, and an All-NEC selection last season as well.
Jones played the role of cheerleader/assistant coach the rest of the way, having to be told by the referees to sit down on several occasions when he got up to encourage or tell someone they weren't doing their job. Often at time outs, Jones (even with one arm in a sling) beat Toole there to make a point about what had to happen next.
The Colonials still held the lead for most of the first half behind some inspired play
by Jones' replacement, Anthony Myers-Pate, and another Jones coming off an injury, Lucky Jones, who hit a pair of #superhoops. But Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, two of the more underrated players in the NEC (Well, I mean is anyone really "rated" nationally that plays in the NEC? I guess that's a pretty obvious statement), caught fire, and St. Francis Brooklyn had a 37-30 lead at the half. Toole had plenty of work to do to get his team back in it.
(Here's another wonderful St. Francis story. At halftime, the guys sitting next to me - apparently friends of Terriers guard Dre Calloway - decided they were hungry. At most arenas, you go to the concession stand, right? These guys decided they would go down the street to KFC instead. They left just as the teams left the floor for halftime, and returned (with their food) just in time for the second half to begin. Brilliant. And cheaper, surely.)
Somehow Brent Jones was late coming out of the locker room at halftime, sprinting back to the bench just as the ball was about to be inbounded, leading to a bizarre "Calloway for Jones" in the boxscore at 20:00 of the second half.
Robert Morris came out of the locker room late as well, although at least in time to make the second half. But they didn't warm up, just went straight to the bench and onto the court. As you'd expect, the Colonials came out with a little more fire, quickly carving into the St. Francis lead.
I was more impressed with Toole in the second half. The difference between coaching and teaching, two things I'm intimately familiar with (for better or worse), is that in coaching, you have the ultimate hammer, if someone pisses you off enough or you don't like the way they're playing, you just sit them on the bench. There's no better message than that.
Even with foul trouble, injuries, and who knows what else going wrong around him, Toole seemed to stay in control and his team responded.
Of course, the thing is, if you can't actually put the ball in the basket, coaching doesn't help me. Revolutionary analysis, I know.
The Colonials had one possession where they got five, count 'em five, offensive rebounds early in the second half and still didn't score. Eventually, the Terriers caught their breath and kept the visitors at bay. The guys at Big Apple Buckets and I often kid about shooter Ben Mockford's shot selection, but bizarrely (or maybe just clutch) Mockford was 18-of-34 shooting #superhoops
on the season in the last five minutes of games coming in.
With the Terriers leading 53-48 and the shot clock reading "1" with the Terriers having the ball out of bounds, there may have been no one better that I've seen this season better equipped for the situation than Mockford, who grabbed the ball in the corner and hit a fade-away #superhoop
off the inbound. He hit two more down the stretch, including a Farokhmanesh-ian one with a minute left
, the Terriers up by five and the shot clock somewhere in the neighborhood of 30.
Not your day, Mr. Toole.
The NEC is a mess (an exciting one, no doubt) at the top, so Robert Morris - if healthy - is probably still the favorite to return to the NCAA Tournament from the NEC. But for a team like St. Francis Brooklyn, who has never (and I mean a Taylor Swift-like ever
, they've been in Division I since it was formed more than 70 years ago) been to the Big Dance, there's hope, and a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
I just hope the Robert Morris people were able to find their cars somewhere in the Brooklyn night.
at SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 71, ROBERT MORRIS 61
ROBERT MORRIS 14-8 (6-3) -- R. Johnson 4-12 0-0 8; L. Jones 4-7 2-2 11; K. Anderson 5-11 1-1 14; C. Williams 1-7 3-4 5; A. Myers-Pate 6-10 0-0 14; M. McFadden 2-5 1-3 5; D. Appolon 1-3 0-2 2; S. Hawkins 0-0 2-2 2; V. Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-55 9-14 61.
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 9-11 (5-4) -- J. Cannon 5-6 6-9 16; A. White 1-5 2-2 4; A. Johnson 4-9 1-2 9; B. Mockford 4-8 2-2 14; B. Jones 6-9 2-3 16; T. Nichols 1-5 4-4 6; D. Calloway 1-3 2-4 4; P. Santavenere 1-3 0-0 2; A. Isailovic 0-0 0-0 0; L. Ulmer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-48 19-26 71.
Three-point goals: RMU 6-21 (C. Williams 0-4; R. Johnson 0-3; A. Myers 2-3; D. Appolon 0-1; L. Jones 1-3; K. Anderson 3-7), SFNY 6-19 (B. Mockford 4-7; D. Calloway 0-1; T. Nichols 0-3; B. Jones 2-4; P. Santavenere 0-2; A. White 0-2); Rebounds: RMU 27 (R. Johnson 15), SFNY 32 (A. Johnson 10); Assists: RMU 16 (A. Myers 6), SFNY 13 (B. Jones 6); Total Fouls -- RMU 22, SFNY 18; Fouled Out: RMU-L. Jones; SFNY-T. Nichols.