Robert Morris is the type of small eastern private school that fits in so perfectly in the college basketball landscape, one that every so often comes out of nowhere and makes some noise, adding a little bit of spice and a lot of charm to the sport.
Two years ago, the school made considerable noise in the NIT when it defeated Kentucky in a first round game. Tuesday night, though, the Colonials may as well have been Kentucky, for the role of villain they took on in the Northeast Conference championship game.
Robert Morris defeated sentimental favorite St. Francis (N.Y.) 66-63 in the NEC final, yet again depriving the Terriers of their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. By now the story has been well worn: St. Francis is one of five original Division I members to never make the tourney since that level was born in 1939. And it might feel like there is a glass ceiling on those teams after the last two days, as William & Mary also lost in the CAA final Monday night for the second straight year.
One hesitates to try to get inside the psyche of a team, but it sure looked like the Terriers were bearing the weight of the world on Tuesday. St. Francis was easily the best team in the NEC over the course of the season, but looked rushed most of the second half. It was Robert Morris that had five players score in double figures to offset the Terriers’ monstrous 47-27 rebounding advantage.
This one ended in heartbreaking fashion, as SFC guard Tyreek Jewell was fouled shooting a three-pointer with 2.4 seconds left and down three, only to miss all three foul shots (the final one intentionally). The Terriers still had another chance after RMU’s Lucky Jones missed a free throw, but Lowell Ulmer’s 75-foot throw at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.
It was akin in painfulness to the school’s appearance in the 2001 NEC final, when St. Francis held a 20-point lead midway through the second half, only to lose to Monmouth. Current head coach Glenn Braica was an assistant on that team, so he knows the ache of losing such games.
At least St. Francis will be appearing in the NIT next week, where it will break another long streak. It has been 52 years since the Terriers appeared any postseason at all, with their last previous appearance being in the 1963 NIT. That alone is a considerable accomplishment for the tiny school, but it’s hard not to feel for a school that has been so close so many times now and just missed the NCAA Tournament yet again.
Conference Tournament Round-Up: Automatic NCAA berths also were decided in the Horizon League, Summit League and WCC last night.
- Valparaiso held Wisconsin-Green Bay to five points over the final 11:43, finishing the game on a 23-5 run over that time to clinch the Horizon title 54-44. Valpo goes into its eighth NCAA tourney with a glittering 28-5 record, while the Phoenix will almost certainly just miss the field for the second straight year.
- North Dakota State edged South Dakota State 57-56 in a highly competitive Summit League final. Lawrence Alexander was outstanding with 25 points for the Bison, who are back in the NCAAs for the second straight year, albeit with almost many different faces from last year’s team that defeated Oklahoma. This one was marred by a terrible replay reversal in the final seconds, when a call was changed when there was no way on earth that there was indisputable evidence, costing SDSU a possession and chance to take the lead. Plays like this are why college basketball would be better off dumping replay all together, because too often it gets misused anyway.
- Gonzaga pulled away from BYU for a 91-75 win in the WCC final. Six Bulldogs scored in double figures in an entertaining game that was yet another advertisement for why there is no need to tinker with the shot clock. To understand how deep the Zags’ scoring depth is, Byron Wesley only scored three points. The Cougars, meanwhile, are going to be a very interesting case study for the selection committee. They’ve received a lot of support to make the field based almost solely on their win over Gonzaga.
- The first games of the ACC Tournament were both down to the wire, with Boston College defeating Georgia Tech 66-65 and Virginia Tech edging Wake Forest 81-80. Good games. As an aside, it is incredibly sad to see so many empty seats at the ACC Tournament. What once was one of the toughest tickets in sports is now an incredibly ordinary event after selling out its interests to be a still-mediocre football conference.
- The quarterfinals in the MEAC are now set after the final two first round games on Tuesday. No. 9 seed Coppin State edged Bethune-Cookman 64-60, while 7 seed South Carolina State topped North Carolina A&T 63-54.
- Alcorn State defeated Grambling State 66-52 in the SWAC Tournament 8/9 game to earn the chance to face top seed Texas Southern.
- Princeton won at Pennsylvania 73-52 in both teams’ season finale and the final game for Penn coach Jerome Allen. The Tigers are now 16-14, while the Quakers finish a disappointing 9-19.
- Howard Moore is out as head coach at Illinois-Chicago after five years. Moore posted a 49-111 record at UIC and finished this year 10-24. The Flames had an especially hard time the last two years, going 16-49, but were good for a few surprises both years, including a run to the Horizon League semifinals this year.
- A number of conferences released postseason honors Tuesday. Bobby Portis of Arkansas was named the SEC Player of the Year, while Derrick Marks of Boise State was named the Mountain West’s top player. R.J. Hunter of Georgia State repeated as the Sun Belt’s best player
- Awards missed from Monday included Thomas Walkup of Stephen F. Austin being named the Southland Player of the Year on Monday. Corey Hawkins of UC Davis won the Big West’s top honor and Mikh McKinney of Sacramento State was named the Big Sky’s best player.
Today’s Menu: Thanks to oversized conferences for football purposes, many conference tournaments now span nearly an entire week, so many events that conclude even on Sunday get going today
- The most important game of the night is the Patriot League final (7:30 p.m. EST, CBSSN). Few expected fourth-seeded Lafayette to be hosting, but the Leopards are doing exactly that against No. 6 American.
- The second round of the ACC Tournament includes four games. Especially key games to follow include No. 7 N.C. State against 10 seed Pittsburgh and sixth-seeded Miami taking on No. 14 Virginia Tech.
- The Pac-12 has four first round games. That Arizona State is the 5 seed in this one tells you just how slim the at-large chances are for this league outside the top four teams.
- The MAC Tournament promises to be as competitive as any this week, and it kicks into gear today with second round games. No. 5 Bowling Green takes on No. 8 Eastern Michigan and sixth-seeded Western Michigan takes on 7 seed Akron.
- The first round of the Conference USA tourney gets underway with four first round games.
- The top two seeds in the MEAC and SWAC play today as those leagues divide up their quarterfinals over two days.
- The Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, SEC and Southland all have two first round games each.
Enjoy your Wednesday.