Colonials win fifth straight game, 500th in program history

The Robert Morris men’s basketball club extended its winning streak to a season- high five consecutive games and claimed the 500th victory in program history with a 68-60 win over Central Connecticut State Saturday night at the Charles L. Sewall Center.

Lijah Thompson led the Colonials with  15 points off the bench, while forward Russell Johnson added 14 tallies and nine rebounds for an RMU team that improves to 12-4 overall in the Northeast Conference this season. Lone senior Lawrence Bridges, who played his last regular season home contest in a Robert Morris uniform, contributed eight points and shot a perfect 4-4 from the floor.

Robert Morris got on the scoreboard first, three seconds into the game, when Johnson grabbed the opening tip-off and drove the lane for an easy layup.

RMU eventually built an eight point lead six minutes in after Thompson connected on two shots from the charity strike, and ended the half with a 28-16 lead.

Although the Colonials held a 14 point advantage with ten minutes remaining, CCSU did not go away without a fight. The Blue Devils cut the lead to five with 1:04 left when Kyle Vinales’s three rattled in, but RMU sealed the win by shooting 7-8 from the foul line in the match’s final minute.

“I’m really pleased with the guys tonight. We had a sizeable lead but we knew ‘Central’ wouldn’t quit and they made some tough shots,” explained RMU coach Andy Toole after his team’s final home regular season contest.

The Robert Morris defense, which has excelled in the past five games, forced its opponent to shoot 34% from the field and, according to CCSU head coach Howie Dickenman, would not allow the Blue Devils the opportunity to drive to the hoop. “It’s like they had a man and a half guarding the ball. When we tried to drive either way, the off-side defender always seemed to be in the way.”

Despite the fact that Robert Morris’s two leading scorers, Velton Jones and Coron Williams, combined for a total of 12 points, the team received the bulk of its offensive production from the forward position. “Russell had a big game, Lijah had a big game, and I thought Mike was terrific. We made some simple plays on offense and threw it to the person who was open,” added Toole. “When we do that, our offense is much more effective.”

Although Toole is happy that Robert Morris’s 500th victory came with him at the reigns, he believes that all of the former RMU coaches are equally responsible for the monumental milestone. “It’s pretty neat [to win the teams’ 500th game] but at the same time, there are a lot of people who helped to get it to this point. I’m just fortunate enough to be carrying the torch at this point in time.”

Freshman forward Lucky Jones was not in the lineup for the second consecutive game after sustaining a knee injury in practice on Tuesday, but according to Toole, should be ready to play in the Colonials’ final two contests on February 23 and 25.

Because RMU secured its 21st victory of the 2011-2012 campaign against Central Connecticut State, the Colonials are guaranteed at least one home Northeast Conference tournament match.

“It [home court advantage] is big! Going into the playoffs, home court advantage can help you out a lot,” said Johnson, a 6-6 redshirt junior.

RMU ends the regular season at Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac, before returning to the Sewall Center for the first round of the NEC playoffs on March 1.