Robert Morris 65, LIU Brooklyn 56

In a battle of undermanned teams Robert Morris captured a 65-56 victory over LIU Brooklyn before a nationally televised audience on ESPNU on Thursday night.

Both teams came into the game with just eight scholarship players, but the Colonials’ pieces fit together better right now and have helped propel RMU to the top of the NEC standings despite their limited depth.

That depth was tested again on Thursday when Karvel Anderson was only able to play seven minutes during the first half due to foul trouble. The NEC’s most dangerous scorer was 0-2 from the field and didn’t score a single point during the first half, but thanks to incredibly stingy defense the Colonials survived.

“There’s always temptation to put Karvel back in the game,” said Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole about the first half. “But we understand how important he is to our team and if he would’ve gotten a third foul in the first half or anything like that it affects his ability to play in the second. I felt how the game was going and what the score was we could get away with him being on the bench.”

There were times in the first half when LIU had a chance to take advantage of Anderson’s absence. The best one seemed to come late in the first 20 minutes. The Blackbirds had the ball up three points with 2:23 remaining. Landon Atterberry missed the front-end attempt of a 1-and-1 with the opportunity to extend the lead to five points and a veteran RMU took advantage. Two poor fouls and a Lucky Jones jumper later and the Colonials had turned a near certain halftime deficit into a three-point halftime lead.

“The last minute and a half of the first half we had two 90-foot fouls on offensive rebounds that killed us,” said LIU head coach Jack Perri. “I thought that was big.”

Anderson returned with a vengeance in the second half. He started with two threes to push the RMU advantage to nine almost instantly. He finished with 16 points on 6-13 shooting, including 4-8 from three.

LIU struggled against RMU’s 2-3 zone to match Anderson’s second half scoring. Part of the problem was that LIU lacked the shooters to spread the defense out. Gerrell Martin injured his shoulder on Tuesday in a drill and will most likely miss the entire weekend. Gilbert Parga is on the mend, but still not ready for game action after re-aggravating a foot injury. The best shooter left was point guard Jason Brickman and he couldn’t pass and shoot at the same time (though he’d surely try). Freshman Iverson Fleming started in Martin’s place and shot 3-12 from the field overall and 1-3 from three. The Blackbirds shot just 4-18 (22%) from distance as a team.

The other way to combat RMU’s zone is by going inside, but the Blackbirds also struggled to score on the interior. Atterberry and Glenn Feidanga were able to get good position on the block, but couldn’t take advantage, going a combined 3-12 from the field. Though they did manage to get Stephan Hawkins in foul trouble.

“When you just keep missing shots and missing shots that can be demoralizing,” Perri said. “I think that’s kind of what happened. We didn’t have the focus to get back defensively enough.”

Still, it was, for once, the offense that let the Blackbirds down. After the 1-2-2 zone allowed RMU to go on a 10-0 run early Perri switched to a 2-3 that was much better. The Blackbirds stayed in that zone most of the game, with a few possessions of man mixed in. Anderson hit tough shots and the Colonials scored in transition, but still finished with just 65 points in 63 possessions, a respectable 1.03 points per possession.

Brickman finished with 11 assists and eight points. EJ Reed led the way for LIU with 14 points on 15 shots and four blocks thanks to some strong help defense in the zone. Despite the foul trouble Hawkins scored 10 points in 16 minutes.

The victory keeps RMU in first at 8-1 in the NEC. It hasn’t been the prettiest nine games with just eight players, but it has been effective. The Colonials face a tough challenge when they head to Brooklyn Heights to take on St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday. Back at LIU the Blackbirds face a near must-win against Saint Francis PA if they want to keep their sights on a spot in the NEC’s postseason tournament.