The Robert Morris Colonials (20-9, 12-4) will head to Smithfield, Rhode Island to challenge the Bryant Bulldogs (18-9, 11-5). A win for the Colonials will clinch the regular season NEC title and home court advantage throughout the conference tournament. Bryant can also clinch the regular season NEC championship with wins in their next two games. Tip is at 7:00pm and you can catch the game on NECfrontrow.com or tune in on 730 WPITAM with Chris Shovlin on the call. You can also catch post-game coverage starting at 9:00pm on RMUradiocom. Andrew Chiappazzi of ColonialsCorner.com writes about how important home court advantage is for RMU, we encourage you to give it a read:
"Everybody in the league, when their building is packed, feeds off that energy and that environment," Toole said. "It makes it that much more difficult to go in and beat teams in their own buildings."
Home court is what's at stake Thursday night against Bryant. Robert Morris will clinch home court throughout the NEC Tournament with a win. A loss ties them with Bryant in the standings and gives the Bulldogs the tiebreaker. Robert Morris would need to beat Central Connecticut State on Saturday and hope Bryant falls to St. Francis (Pa.) to claim the top seed again. Otherwise, RMU would be stuck with No. 2.
So why has the Sewall Center been so good to the Colonials? Being a good team certainly helps. But for a team whose head coach preaches being comfortable in unique situations, a familiar gym erases some of the other issues of game day.
This is what it comes down to, folks. After two home losses two start conference play, your Robert Morris Colonials will be on the road in Rhode Island and Connecticut to revenge the two most perplexing and stomach-churning losses of the year. What more can you ask for?"I just think it's the comforts of home. Being able to be comfortable is important, and I think when you go on the road you put yourself in uncomfortable situations," Toole said. "It makes it that much more difficult.
January 3rd saw a confident Bryant team march into the Charles L. Sewall Center, fresh off a win at Lehigh and their first ever mid-major top 25 ranking, destroy RMU's heralded defense with ball movement and efficiency rarely ever seen. The result? An 84-77 "we're-for-real-and-here-to-stay" win for Bryant. Dynami Starks and Frankie Dobbs went for a combined 55 points making 12 of their 20 three pointers, many of which were open looks due to said ball movement.
Bryant averages 73.9 points per game, best in the NEC and good for 41st in the country. Bryant also averages 15 assists per game (31st in the country) and shoots an unbelievably efficient 47 percent from the field as a team (27th in the country). Starks, Dobbs, and forward Alex Francis could all potentially find themselves on the first team all-NEC team.
The journey of Robert Morris has been well chronicled here. The injuries, inconsistencies, and whatever else has been thrown at this teams way have only built them up for this moment. Velton Jones said last Saturday his shoulder/chest injury is "about 85 percent" towards its full health. These are the games Jones lives and thrives off of. Don't be naive: he's going off tonight in a Steph Curry unstoppable type of way. It's inevitable. Don't fight the greatness, just sit back and enjoy.
Their are plenty of other story lines we could look at: Robert Morris' top-ranked defense vs. Bryant's top ranked offense, Karvel Anderson's wrist, the Chace Athletic Center's "black-out", how every game for Bryant is now the biggest in their programs history, etc. None are bigger than the fact that first place is on the line. Are you excited?
Prediction: The colonials defense is much better this time around than last, as is Lucky Jones and Russell Johnson. Robert Morris pulls out a gritty, comeback win on the heroics of Velton Jones, 77-75.