Tonight, the No. 1 seeded St. Francis Terriers (23-10, 15-3) hosted the No. 2 seeded Robert Morris Colonials (18-14, 12-6). This game would be Robert Morris’ sixth NEC title appearance in the last seven years, while St. Francis played in its first NEC title game since 2003.
The first half was all about rebounds and second-chance points for the St. Francis Terriers, who aimed to make the game physical early on. The Terriers drew 12 fouls in the first half, sticking to their physical game plan. In the first 10 minutes of the game, St. Francis had 10 second-chance points and 15 rebounds, seven of which being offensive rebounds. They ended the half with 16 second-chance points and 13 offensive rebounds.
The Colonials, running a 2-3 zone on defense, were able to keep the Terriers back past the perimeter; however, they struggled early on in rebounds, both offensively and defensively. However, the Colonial defense was also able to generate offense through stealing the ball away five times and score four fastbreak points in the first half.
Both teams came out in the second half physical committing six fouls in the first two minutes. After the exchange of fouls, Rodney Pryor and Lucky Jones would combine draining three consecutive 3-pointers for the Colonials, giving them a 39-37 lead.
Through the course of the game, minus runs generated by each team, neither Robert Morris nor St. Francis were able to pull ahead significantly. The Terriers, by the midpoint of the half, seemed to look worn down by seeing their inability to score and lack of rebounds. Robert Morris’ defense began to become stingy eating up rebound after rebound.
With about 6:30 left in the championship game, Robert Morris was able to separate themselves and were able to create a cushion after going on a 16-3 run. The Terriers, moments later, were able to pick themselves up with the help of junior guard Tyreek Jewells, who drained two consecutive 3-pointers to bring St. Francis within five points of matching Robert Morris, 59-54.
The already electrified Pope Physical Education Center in Brooklyn was rocking the roof off headed into the final two minutes where the winner would eventually be determined.
With 20 seconds left and the Terriers down 64-60, freshman guard Glenn Sanabria caught nothing but net registering a 3-pointer from well behind the middle of the arc. The Colonials, on the ensuing possession, were able to give the ball to one of their best free-throw shooters, Jones, who was able to knock down both free throws. The Terriers quickly tried to move up court handing the ball to sophomore guard Yunus Hopkinson who bricked a 3-pointer which eventually found Jewell’s hands. Upon eating up yet another offensive rebound, Jewell was fouled while pulling up for a 3-point shot. He would end up missing all three of his free throws giving the Colonials the NEC title and a bid to the Big Dance.
Tyreek Jewell, who played an outstanding game, finished with 19 points, four assists and plated 36 minutes and put the Terriers on his back. Robert Morris’ Pryor would finish with 17 points, nailing four 3-pointers and played 35 minutes. Four other Colonials would score in double digits, Jones, Marcquise Reed, Kavon Stewart, Elijah Minnie, helping their team edge past the Terriers.
Robert Morris, with the win tonight, has secured their eight NEC title, the highest among NEC members. While having average regular seasons, the Colonials have continued to play very well come tournament time in the last few seasons. They will be looking to carry this momentum into the first round of the NCAA tournament in the hopes of making history.
Photo credit: The Associated Press