Rivalries revisited as RMU tops former NEC Rivals

Photo Courtesy of Robert Morris Athletics

RMU delivered some early Christmas presents to Colonial fans as they topped two former Northeast Conference Rivals.

The Colonials began their two-game, pre-Christmas break stretch by heading down to the ever infamous Emmitsburg, MD to face off again former and still somewhat hated, NEC rival Mount St. Mary’s. RMU and “The Mount” have faced off in some heated battles back in the day, a couple of which came with NCAA berths on the line. No such “prize” was awarded after this one, but it was yet again a classic between the two.

Andy Toole and the Colonials came in to the matchup losing two of three, but what better way to get back on track by winning a road game. Now, speaking from experience, playing at the Mount is fun, but very tough with the student section being on of the better ones in the mid major realm. Fortunately for RMU, this matchup did not include many, if any students due to the holiday break, but it was still a “testy” atmosphere.

The first half featured a pretty back and forth tempo with the teams heading to the break tied at 32. RMU, being paced by their Big Three in Josh Corbin, Kahliel Spear and Enoch Cheeks, would yet again call up on them for a big second half. A costly turnover by Michael Green III would give the Mount the lead with 5:24 left in regulation, but Cheeks would follow with a big and one to give the Colonials a 57-55 lead with just over five minutes remaining.

The basket and free throw by Cheeks would ultimately give RMU the lead for the remainder, but not to be forgotten was a big block by Spear which was followed by a three by Cheeks to put the the Colonials up by five with about 3 minutes left. RMU would ultimately pull away and leave Emmitsburg with a 68-59 victory.

Following their big road victory, Robert Morris headed back home to face off again St. Francis (PA), who ironically RMU beat in March 2020 to win the NEC (thanks, COVID). This would be the last game for the Colonial before an eight day break, so I know Toole was looking for his team to leave it all out on the floor.

Early on, Toole and RMU had trouble finding the right “mix” lineup wise to solve SFU defense. Robert Morris was unable to really get in any type of rhythm on either end of the floor. One issue the Colonials faced early was foul trouble as Stephaun Walker committed his third foul with 9:55 remaining in the first half. There were a few bright spots in the first twenty minutes of action, Green III scored his 1000th career NCAA point and Spear did his best Steph Curry impression by knocking down a couple threes.

One key for RMU to win this game was keeping Josh Cohen in check which is no easy task. Cohen came into this game having two forty point games this season, so this was going to be a big challenge. Robert Morris would do a decent job in the first twenty minutes with help from Trey James picking up the slack for Matt Mayers and Cheeks pacing RMU with 13 points on 4/8 shooting.

The second half would get a bit stressful for the Colonials as they saw Cheeks go down with an injury to his foot/ankle. With their catalyst out, someone had to step up for the Colonials and Mayers would be the guy, picking up from his less than stellar first half in the final twenty, thanks to some fresh legs with limited action early. A big Mayers dunk, followed by a bigger Corbin three-pointer, pushed the RMU lead to 49-41. Cheeks would return, but with a noticeable grimace and would end the contest with a team-high 23 points.

RMU knew they had the athleticism to wear out a young SFU team and in the final twenty they did just that. Khaliel Spear continued his Steph Curry like afternoon with another three to put the Robert Morris ahead 60-53 and they would never look back.

The Colonials would end their final game before Christmas with a 77-66 victory and enjoy a well deserved eight-day break. RMU will end the 2022 calendar year by welcoming Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State to the UPMC Events Center the end of this week.

Robert Morris needs to build off these last two wins now that its full head of steam into Horizon League Play. This is where you make your money in a “one-bid league” (for the most part), league play is how you achieve your end goal; March Madness.

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