Preview: RMU attempts to clinch ticket to the dance

Photo+Credit%3A+Thomas+Ognibene

Photo Credit: Thomas Ognibene

By Austin Bechtold, Assistant Sports Editor

MOON TOWNSHIP– One game, 40 minutes, two teams, a birth in the NCAA Tournament on the line and a packed arena to watch it all unfold. These characteristics will all come together Tuesday night for the NEC Championship game on the campus of Robert Morris University.

The Colonials (19-14, 13-5 NEC) will try to defend their home court against the rival St. Francis Red Flash (22-9, 13-5 NEC) starting at 7 p.m. The winner will be crowned the champion of the Northeast Conference for the 2019-20 season and earn themselves an automatic bid into March Madness.

Recapping Robert Morris

The Robert Morris Colonials enter the championship game after defeating St. Francis Brooklyn (13-18) and Long Island on their home floor last week. St. Francis Brooklyn represented the No. 8 seed in the tournament and took RMU to the final whistle in what resulted in a 59-58 one-point victory for the NEC’s top seed.

The Colonials shot only 21% from three but were jolted by AJ Bramah’s 22 points in the victory. Robert Morris moved on to face LIU (15-18) and coast to a 20 point win, capturing the game 86-66 thanks to a commanding double-digit lead to start the contest and dominant play in the last 10 minutes. Robert Morris is looking to capture their ninth NEC Tournament championship and second under head coach Andy Toole, who hopes to bring his team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.

Scouting St. Francis

The St. Francis Red Flash will take the Peoples Court at the UPMC Events Center winning ten of their last eleven, with a loss at Robert Morris the only blemish in the final regular-season game of the season. The Red Flash beat No. 7 Bryant (15-17) and No. 3 seed Sacred Heart (20-13) on their way to Tuesday’s championship game. St. Francis handled Bryant easily and carried a 14 point lead to the locker room, continuing the success they found in the first half to the second with relative ease. Keith Braxton scored a team-high 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds to guide the team to victory, Sacred Heart also faced a double-digit lead after 20 minutes, trailing 43-30 at the break. The Red Flash once again dictated the game and held on for a 12 point victory by a 84-72 score. This will be the first and only road game for St. Francis in the tournament and will be the first since giving up the No. 1 seed to the Colonials on February 29.

Players to Watch

Josh Williams (Robert Morris)

Senior guard Josh Williams looks to end his NEC career as a champion and play his first game in the NCAA Tournament for his career. The sharp-shooter averages 13.5 points per game and will be heavily depended on for Robert Morris to complete their historic season.

AJ Bramah (Robert Morris)

In his first season in a Colonial uniform, forward AJ Bramah has been nothing but outstanding for the program with his play on the court. He led the team in scoring in their last two victories, with 22 and 18, respectively, and just recently was added to the starting lineup. Bramah will be looked at as the spark for the Colonials on both ends and as an important sense of energy as well.

Isaiah Blackmon (St. Francis)

Redshirt senior guard Isaiah Blackmon has been the most consistent scoring threat on the Red Flash this season and will look to propel his team to the NCAA Tournament with his leadership. He is averaging a career-high 18.9 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game, and 1.6 assists per game in his final season.

Keith Braxton (St. Francis)

The 6’5’’ senior guard has also been phenomenal scoring the basketball in 2019-20. Braxton averages 17.5 ppg and brings down 7.4 boards per game as well. He has been the leading scorer and go-to option when Blackmon is heavily guarded, giving him a chance to be a key contributor for the Red Flash on Tuesday.

Prediction

In the biggest game of the season and the most important game played in the early history of the UPMC Events Center, the Robert Morris Colonials and St. Francis Red Flash will battle it out to be crowned champions of the NEC. This matchup will come down to who takes care of the ball the best, makes timely shots and can hit clutch free throws in the final minutes.

One important factor to watch for is the crowd, as the building should be at full capacity and have a similar feel to when the Pitt Panthers played at Robert Morris a few short months ago. An energetic and enthusiastic crowd will go a long way towards vaulting the Colonials to their first Northeast Conference Championship since 2015, and because of this, Robert Morris will get the job done.

RMU 78-76