Red Flash are hoping 14 the lucky number
It would be a pretty big upset but not exactly a big surprise if St. Francis were to knock off Robert Morris today in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals in Moon Township.
The Colonials have beaten the Red Flash 13 straight times, with St. Francis last winning a series game in 2007. However, both regular-season matchups were close – decided by six and five points – and SFU has given the Colonials all they could handle in each game.
“After the game down here in early January, our guys left the building disappointed, and obviously so,” St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said by phone Friday night.
The Flash led by 11 points with 4 minutes to play at the Sewall Center on Jan. 16, only to be stunned as Robert Morris stormed back for a 73-68 win.
In the rematch Feb. 13 in Loretto, the game was tied at 51 with five minutes to go before the Colonials went on a mini 5-0 run that essentially decided the game.
“Our guys know we played well in two games, but in order to get over that hump you’ve got to pay a little closer attention to some of the details,” Krimmel said of the close losses to RMU.
No one in the NEC beats Robert Morris at this time of year without playing a sound game for 40 minutes. The Colonials, who are favored by 11 today, have been too good for too long and are perennially one of the league’s top contenders for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Robert Morris, which went 14-2 to win the regular-season conference title, is seeking its eighth trip to the big dance and first since back-to-back appearances in 2009-10.
Colonials coach Andrew Toole said the program’s traditional success helps some from a confidence standpoint but added that every team is different and has to draw on its own experiences to reach the ultimate goal in March.
“The one thing I’ll say about our group is I think we’re a pretty resilient group,” Toole said. “We’ve been in a lot of different situations this year.”
Some of those have included leading big but holding on to win close or coming back from big deficits, like the Colonials did when they hosted the Flash.
One huge key today will be the health of NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson, who had an undisclosed illness and didn’t score in Robert Morris’ 60-53 win over Fairleigh Dickinson in the quarterfinals. Toole said Anderson is feeling better and that his team is as healthy as can be expected at this point in the year.
Anderson lit up the Flash for 28 and 24 points in the regular-season meetings.
Krimmel said the keys for his team will be to take care of the ball, limit the Colonials to one shot and hit enough outside shots to open things up for Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon inside. Drinnon has made major strides in his all-around game the second half of the season and is coming off a 20-point, 18-rebound effort in SFU’s 55-54 quarterfinal win at Bryant.
“Every team is a tough matchup, and St. Francis is no different,” Toole said. “There are certain things that they do that give us trouble.”
The Colonials coach mentioned the Flash’s inside-outside balance as one area of concern. St. Francis features quality 3-point shooters in Ben Millaud-Meunier, Dom Major and NEC Rookie of the Year Malik Harmon, and if those guys get hot, the Flash should be able to hang around.
“I think our guys do have a good vibe going into [the game],” Krimmel said. “A lot of it is we have played them well the last two times, and then obviously coming off our win.
“Basketball is such a momentum sport that you want your guys feeling good about themselves and believing in themselves and believing in the opportunity that’s ahead of them.”
The opportunity for today’s winner is a chance to move on to the NEC championship game and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Robert Morris is used to this kind of stage, but it’s entirely new for St. Francis after an 18-year drought between conference tournament wins.
“I think they’ll be excited and ready to play,” Krimmel said of his players.