LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris have played many great games in their long rivalry as NEC foes. In recent history, names like Boyd, Olasewere, Brickman, Karvel Anderson, Lucky Jones and Velton Jones immediately comes to mind.
Wednesday night, inside a raucous Steinberg Wellness Center which stuffed in over 1400 fans to watch another great game to add to the long legacy of the Robert Morris-LIU Brooklyn rivalry, it was Robert Morris senior point guard Kavon Stewart who came up his the biggest shot of his career with three seconds remaining to upset LIU Brooklyn and advance to the NEC tournament semifinals with a 69-68 win for the Colonials.
Stewart, who is a good point guard but hasn’t been known for his scoring talent throughout his four-year at Robert Morris and is just a 36 percent shooter for his career, went one-on-one against LIU senior Jerome Frink who was guarding Stewart after a defensive switch and Stewart drove to the basket and shot a fadeaway over the outstretched hand of Frink and made the game-winning shot.
“I thought that they were going to switch on the screen with Matty (McConnell) but they didn’t,” said Stewart. “So yeah, I made a play. Those are one of the shots that I take in practice, that I make in practice.”
“The play had a number of options to it,” said Toole. “And our guys understand those options especially based on the different defenses that they might see. There is an option for Matty, there is an option for Isaiah, there is an option for Kavon but once we got that mismatch and the time was running down, Kavon knows how to attack a big’s feet and see what can happen. He got bumped on the way and was strong enough to fight through and didn’t worry about trying to get bailed out or anything like that. And like he said, it is a shot he practices before practice and he shoots all the time in practice and has made in games and I think when he shot it no one was surprised that it went in the basket because we have seen him do it a number of times.”
LIU had one last opportunity to get off a game-winning shot with three seconds left but RMU defended the LIU guard well forcing Jerome Frink who caught the ball on the inbounds pass to briefly hesitate and hold the ball for a split second too long and then realize he had to force up a desperation half-court shot that came after the final buzzer had sounded and let Frink lying face-first on the Steinberg Center court.
“I was waiting for one of my guards to get open but I realize they were getting pressure so I just took it upon myself to try and make a play.” said Frink.
“(Robert Morris) took it away. It was a play that we’ve run and that we have been pretty successful with it. They did a great job taking that away and he had to turn and who knows. He did what he was supposed to do.”
The closing dramatic was just part of a great game as saw Robert Morris come back from a nine-point second-half deficit with 9:14 to play.
Robert Morris was the ones who got out the gate in a hurry thanks to three straight three-pointers from sophomore Matty McConnell who enter the game shooting just 28 percent from three this season and was two for eleven from three in last three games, to give RMU a quick 9-0 lead.
LIU would settle in and eventually take the lead by using an 8-0 run capped by a pair of sophomore guard Raul Frias three-pointers.
After RMU would retake the lead with a 7-0 run, LIU closed the half strong on a 6-0 run to take a 27-26 lead to the locker room.
The Blackbirds came out hot out the halftime break 11-3 run to go up by seven and would increase their lead to nine before RMU closed the gap again by using the three-ball. Junior Lorenzen Wright hit a pair of threes and then McConnell got going again after cooling off with two more three and all of a sudden RMU was back up one with 4:19 to go.
LIU freshman point guard Jashaun Agosto, who had a terrific game for his first collegiate postseason game, made some big plays with back-to-back lay-ins to put LIU go three with 2:40 left.
It came down to the final minute and RMU made two straight baskets to go one with 34 seconds remaining. RMU then fouled Jerome Frink for a one-and-one opportunity at the free-throw line but Frink missed the first free throw but Raiquan Clark was able to find the offensive rebound and get fouled and make two clutch free throws to put LIU up one with 17 seconds left before Stewart heroics.
“We knew it was going to be a great game,” said Perri. “Certainly, we didn’t want to come to the end because then it could go either way. Thought we battled back well after a rough start. The reality is you can’t give up 53 percent in a half, you can’t let teams shoot 62 percent from three and you can’t foul them and they go eight for ten. Those numbers are too high and our defense wasn’t good enough. We had to better defensively if we were going to win this game. Unfortunately, we were not.”
Matty McConnell led Robert Morris with a career-high 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting from three. Sophomore Isaiah Still finished with 19 points and Kavon Stewart finished with 11 points including the game-winner. RMU moves on to take on #1 seed Mount St. Mary’s at Knott Arena Saturday afternoon in the NEC tournament semifinals.
LIU were led by Agosto who finished with 16 points and an NEC tournament freshman record 10 assists for his first career double-double and he seemed to thrive in the postseason atmosphere. He even added this highlight dunk for good measure.
“For me, it didn’t feel like anything new. I’m kind of use to it,” Agosto said. “I really don’t let get anything get to me. If you look at me, my face is the same way throughout the whole game so with the environment and everything I just try to play my game, help our team win, give it my all.”
Jerome Frink, Iverson Fleming, and Nura Zanna all finished with ten points each. Zanna also added 12 rebounds for his sixteenth double-double of the season. Raiquan Clark scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds. Julian Batts who got hurt with a lower-body injury in Saturday’s win over Wagner, did not start and play in just two minutes as he tried to give it a go but was too hampered by his injury.
With the loss, LIU is now 20-12 on the season. After the game, Jack Perri indicated that a couple of the smaller postseason tournaments had already contacted them and offered LIU Brooklyn invitations although he did not say which one they were and that they would begin mulling over their options.
Jerome Frink, one of three outgoing seniors on this season’s LIU team would like to get an opportunity to continue on with their season and give LIU a chance to play in their first postseason tournament since the 2013 NCAA’s.
“I got to talk with my seniors and see what they what they want to do but I really do want to play in either the CBI or the CIT.” said Frink.
Everyone involved will likely weigh their options and decide if they want to continue on with their season and give their seniors a chance to play in a postseason tournament over the next couple of days and we should know fairly soon if LIU Brooklyn does indeed accept an invitation to either the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament or the College Insider Tournament (CIT) or decide to put the balls away and close the book on the 2016-17 season.