LORETTO - Remember Mike Rice, the disgraced former Rutgers coach who was fired in 2013 for abusive behavior toward his players?
St. Francis still hasn't beaten Robert Morris since way back when Rice was coaching his first Northeast Conference game with the Colonials - on Dec. 8, 2007.
Robert Morris made it 13 in a row over the Red Flash on Thursday with a 66-60 win before a surprisingly large crowd of 1,119. More than half the crowd was made up of students as St. Francis wisely ran some giveaway promotions for them to help fill DeGol Arena on a snowy night on the mountain.
St. Francis' losing streak against RMU has reached a baker's dozen, but both meetings this season have been very close, showing just how little separation there is between the teams.
"I don't think there is much of a difference," SFU guard Steph Whyatt said. "It just comes down to little plays, the hustle plays."
Thursday's game came down to one team making big shots down the stretch. That team was not St. Francis (7-17, 5-6 NEC), which instead missed several good looks with chances to tie or take the lead late.
Robert Morris (15-11, 10-1) had the best player on the court in guard Karvel Anderson, and he stuck several daggers into the Flash's chances with clutch jumpers.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," said Anderson, who scored 28 points. "I felt like we had mismatches all over the floor."
It wasn't exactly mismatches that helped Anderson lead the Colonials to victory. At times he appeared to be guarded well, but Anderson still found a way to bury big shots.
"He's one of the best players in this league without a doubt, [with] his ability to make tough shots with a hand in his face," SFU coach Rob Krimmel said.
St. Francis tied the game at 51 on a bucket inside by Earl Brown with 5:13 to play. Robert Morris answered with a 5-0 run that, while small, essentially made all the difference. David Appolon hit one free throw and Lucky Jones hit a bucket that gave the Colonials a 54-51 edge.
The Flash had two chances to pull even on 3-point attempts, but Whyatt missed one and, after an offensive rebound, Ben Millaud-Meunier missed another.
Anderson drained a 17-foot jumper to push the lead to 56-51, and after Millaud-Meunier scored for SFU, Anderson struck again with a baseline jumper to make it 58-53 with 1:47 left. It was largely a free-throw contest after that, and the Colonials made eight in a row over the final 37 seconds to seal the win.
"All the games have been only a handful of possessions," Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said of his team's 13-game winning streak over the Flash.
Toole, in his fourth season as head coach, has been there for all of them. He was an assistant on Rice's staff, and he pointed out that the last SFU win in 2007 came during that staff's first conference game.
"Your margin for error is slim [against a team like Robert Morris]," Krimmel said.
Indeed. Four of the last seven meetings have been decided by six points or less, after five of the first six were by double digits.
Players and coaches on both sides said the streak has no impact on how games play out now. To that end, St. Francis nearly ended the skid during the first meeting this season but blew an 11-point lead in the final 4 minutes at Robert Morris and lost, 73-68.
"That streak means nothing to us," Anderson said. "We're a team that we pride ourselves on being road warriors."
Earl Brown led St. Francis with 17 points, while Whyatt had 11 off the bench. Lucky Jones chipped in 12 for the Colonials.
The Flash have five conference wins against teams in the bottom half of the league, and Krimmel has pointed out several times that a "statement" win has eluded the team. St. Francis has been close against Dayton and Duquesne along with Robert Morris but still hasn't found a way to get over the hump against better competition.
"I definitely think we're right there with anybody in this league," Whyatt said, "and we're better than a lot of teams."