FAIRFIELD, CT (February 23, 2012) - Robert Morris's Velton Jones sunk a three from the right wing just as time expired to saddle Sacred Heart with their third-straight loss, 55-53, Thursday night in the William H. Pitt Center. The Pioneers still clinched the final spot in the 2012 Northeast Conference Tournament thanks to loses by Mount St. Mary's and Saint Francis (PA) and will be the #8 seed.
Sacred Heart will take on top-seed and defending NEC Champion LIU Brooklyn next Thursday night, March 1st in Brooklyn. The Pioneers fall to 13-17 overall and 7-10 in the NEC and will host Saint Francis (PA) in Saturday's regular season finale.
The Colonials (21-9, 13-4 NEC) scored just five points, all from the free throw line, over the final 7:22 before Jones sent the Pioneers and their fans home disappointed. RMU's Russell Johnson hit a foul line jumper with 7:22 left to put his team up 47-42. In the final minute, Robert Morris made just three of six at the charity stripe to leave the Pioneers a window and freshman Phil Gaetano, who had yet to crack the scoring column, delivered the go-ahead free throws with 4.6 seconds left. Jones, who had missed a pair with 18 seconds left, took the ball up the right sideline, threw a head fake and delivered as the horn sounded for the win.
Jones and the Colonials kept NEC leading scorer Shane Gibson (Killingly, CT) in check for much of the night, holding the junior guard to just 12 points on four-of-nine shooting, before fouling out with 1:16 left. Gibson came in to Thursday night fourth in the country averaging 22.2 points per game. The Colonials held the Pioneers to a season-low 39 shots and their fewest points of the season. Sacred Heart has lost seven times this season by three-points or less.
The night didn't start well for either team as SHU didn't score a point until the 14:06 mark, a Gibson leaner off glass, but trailed just 5-2. At the 12 minute media time-out, the Pioneers had made just one-of-six while the Colonials checked in at just three-of-10 from the field. RMU caught fire from three and got three-straight, two off the hand of Jones sandwiched around a Brandon Herman triple, to lead 16-8 with 8:43 left in the first half.
SHU woke up from their first half slumber and made their next four-of-five shots and pieced together a 13-0 run. R-Freshman Steve Glowiak (New Britain, CT) made a pair of three's and sophomore Chris Evans (Stamford, CT) capped it with a floater in the lane to lead 21-16 with 3:11 left. SHU made it a 17-4 run and led 25-20 on an Evan Kelley (Norwalk, CT) lay-in with 1:22 to go. Robert Morris closed the half with a five-point spurt, capped by a floater to beat the halftime horn by Jones to tie it at 25-25 into the locker room. RMU held Gibson to just two-of-four from the field over the first 20 minutes.
The two teams played back and forth basketball for the first eight minutes of the second half, tying the score four times in that span. R-Junior Nick Greenbacker (Coventry, CT) put the Pioneers up 40-39 with a three from the left corner, their last lead until Gaetano's free throws in the closing seconds. A Mike McFadden three-point play and a three from Anthony Myers put RMU up five, 45-40, with 8:35 left.
After Russell's jumper at 7:23 put the Colonials up 47-42, the Pioneer would pull within one three times before taking the lead back with four ticks left. Two free throws from Kelley cut the lead to 47-46 at 6:08 and Gibson hit both ends of a one and one at 1:38 to pull within 49-48. Evans hit two to get SHU within 52-51 with 19 seconds left. The Pioneers were forced to foul and sent Jones to the line but the junior guard missed both with junior Justin Swidowski (Cinnaminson, NJ) collecting the rebound.
Gaetano go into the lane and drew a foul from Lawrence Bridges with four ticks left. The freshman point guard buried both and RMU used a time-out to set up the final play. The Colonials forced the ball to Jones who shook loose and got his three off and over the hands of Kelley just as the horn sounded, sealing the Pioneers fate.
Gibson finished with 12 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals before fouling out. The Pioneers shot 43.6% (17-39) and turned it over 15 times in the loss.
The Pioneers finish up with the Red Flash at 12 noon on Saturday in game being broadcast on MSG Plus. Saturday will also be "Senior Day" as SHU honors seniors Stan Dulaire (Bloomfield, CT) and Steve Zazuri (Monroe, CT) along with senior manager Andrew Owens before the game.