Moon Township, Pa. - So you went to the Robert Morris University basketball game last Saturday and a football game broke out, complete with a Hail Mary pass and overtime.
"Wow would probably be my first reaction,'' RMU coach Andrew Toole said.
Consider this: Colonial senior Russell Johnson scored 21 points and had three assists and added 29 yards passing.
That's correct - 29 yards passing.
He got those on that Hail Mary pass to Lucky Jones with 3.3 seconds remaining in the overtime, and that completion all but sealed the Colonials' angst-filled 83-79 victory over Wagner.
"I think it would have been a devastating loss for us had we not been able to hold on, but we were able to make enough plays to barely hang on," Toole said.
None bigger than Johnson's "touchdown pass'' to Jones, a play that was improvised out of frustration by the way the Colonials did not handle Wagner's full-court pressure.
"(Toole) drew it up,'' Johnson said. "They know I have a good arm on me.''
"We were up by two points, they had so much pressure on the front court and we were having so much trouble getting the ball in right in front of the in-bounder,'' Toole said. "Russell has a great arm, so I knew he'd be able to put it out there. Lucky was our best option at wide receiver. I told Lucky, ‘If you can just get a hand on it, maybe they're shooting a three-quarter court shot to try and win the game.' And if they make a three-quarter court shot, we don't deserve to win the game anyway.
For lack of a better name for the play, let's just call it "Throw it long and hope for the best.''
"Obviously it worked out for the best,'' Toole said. "Lucky really went and got the ball. We were fortunate.''
Johnson heaved a perfect pass from behind the baseline, and the 6'6" Jones caught it 87 feet away going to his right in front of the Colonial bench. Wagner's Josh Thompson immediately fouled him, and Jones made two free throws, capping another great performance from the free throw line by the sophomore and, finally, giving RMU its ninth victory in 12 Northeast Conference games.
Jones was 11-for-12 at the stripe Saturday night. In RMU's 60-48 win against Saint Francis University last Wednesday night, he was 13-for-13, extending his streak without a missed free throw to 17. He made his first six free-throw attempts against Wagner, running that streak to 23, before missing the front end of a two-shot opportunity with 11.2 seconds left in regulation.
Jones made the second attempt, and RMU had a 73-71 lead. Kenny Ortiz tied the game at 73 five seconds later, and Johnson's three-point attempt from the top of the key rimmed out at the buzzer.
That sent the teams into overtime and meant the Seahawks could continue to pressure the Colonials full-court. That frantic pressure was the reason Wagner was able to whittle away RMU leads of 40-19 late in the first half, 47-27 in the first minute of the second half and 62-48 with 7:49 remaining in regulation.
"In the first half, they weren't really pressing us,'' Johnson said. "They were just up, testing us out. The second half, they heated up and really pressed us.''
"Our level of intensity really picked up in the second half,'' Wagner coach Bashir Mason told the Staten Island Advance. "Our guys started battling every possession.''
The Seahawk press benefitted from having Anthony Myers-Pate, RMU's backup point guard, out for the game because of a head injury. Regular point guard Velton Jones battled foul problems before fouling out with three minutes left in the overtime.
That created many nerve-wracking moments.
"Kinda, sorta,'' Williams said. "I didn't do my best, you know, trying to take over and get past the press. People know that Anthony and Velton are our primary ball handlers, and when they see them not in the game they try to press us and try to force turnovers. I bet you for everybody else it was real nerve wracking with me with the ball, but I'm going to get better, trust me.''
Robert Morris had handled pressure pretty well this season - whether Velton Jones or Myers-Pate were in the game or not. However, the Wagner press forced the Colonials into 12 turnovers after halftime.
Why was Wagner's pressure so effective?
"There are a couple things,'' Toole said. "One, they don't usually always press. But when you're down 15 at the half and you're trying to turn the game into just chaos, you just fly around. Two, they were gambling and doing all sorts of crazy stuff because if they don't get (the ball), what happens? They're still down 15. So their mentality is that sometimes to play from behind isn't that hard. You just go and you throw the ball up and if it doesn't go in, ‘Well, we were down 18 before and what were we supposed to do? We did the best we could and we flew around and we were down 15 and we cut it to five and that was as close as we could get.' Their pressure tonight was extra aggressive. It was extra physical.
"We didn't handle it very well, and probably part of it was, we've seen them play full court man at times. We've seen them press on occasion, but going into the game we didn't think that would necessarily be their game plan, which was full-court pressure each and every possession, trapping and flying around. Maybe we should have done a refresher on it (Friday in practice). But I don't know if we thought we were going to be up 21 points with 2:15 to go in the first half and then the game would turn into chaos.''
Another factor in the success of the Seahawk press is that a team that has a big lead only to watch it shrink and shrink and shrink tends to get nervous and become hesitant.
"Absolutely,'' Toole said. "You still have to continue to be aggressive. The hard thing about playing against pressure (is) you can obviously script your press offense with how you want to break pressure, but once you get it over the half-court line you have to make basketball plays. You now have to be able to move the ball, which we did very well at times. We had a number of opportunities when they were really cutting into the lead where Stephan Hawkins or Keith Armstrong have to finish layups and then all of a sudden the game doesn't even get to that point. Because Velton's in there and he's getting into the lane. He had six assists. He probably should have had 12. He was just feeding guys two points, and if you lay those in the pressure's not as good, the game's not as close and the situation doesn't get as difficult. You have to finish those plays. The team that's behind you is gambling and hopes we don't finish those.''
Because the Colonials failed to finish so many layups in the second half, the Seahawks were able to get their deficit down to one point, 79-78, with 2:17 left in regulation. After a series of offensive mishaps by each team, Anderson made two free throws with 12 seconds remaining, giving RMU an 81-78 lead.
Toole decided the Colonials would foul on the Seahawks' ensuing possession rather than risk allowing a game-tying three.
"I'm for (fouling) as long as the situation's right,'' Toole said. "That was an odd situation. We knew they were going to try and get the ball into Ortiz. The only problem was, Coron Williams had four fouls (and) Lucky had four fouls. We like to do it in the backcourt if we can, but when they didn't run it down and go straight to the rim I thought we still had a chance.''
Thing was, as it turned out, Wagner's Jonathon Williams wound up with the ball and drove toward the lane from the right side, clearly not trying to shoot a three. However, Anderson purposefully fouled him.
"I had talked to Karvel a little bit and once he had Jonathon Williams, he actually made a great play in being able to hear me telling him to foul,'' Toole said. "It was great execution by Karvel. My thought on it was, especially the way they were playing in the second half, only one thing has to go right for them to be able to make a three. If you're going to foul, they have to have five or six things go right for them to tie the game or win the game whether it's make the first free throw, miss the second, rebound the ball, put it back in. Those are a lot of things that have to go in their favor in order for you to not have success. We practiced it a couple times in practice, and we were able to execute it.''
Why not just permit Jonathon Williams to continue his drive and let him make a layup?
"He was driving,'' Toole noted, "but I thought (fouling) gave us a better chance to set our ability to in-bound the ball. And there's no guarantee that he makes both (free throws). He's actually got to go to the line, make the first and figure out a good way to miss the second. How many times do we see a guy not even hit the rim on the second? It just makes it a little bit more difficult.''
As events unfolded, Williams made the first free throw, then intentionally shot the second off the rim. Mike McFadden, who returned to the Colonials after a one-game personal issue absence, got the rebound, but that was academic. Wagner's Ortiz drew a lane violation call.
All that was left was Johnson throwing his "Hail Mary'' to Lucky Jones, and the Colonials escaped.
"I don't think we could have played any better in the first half,'' Toole said. "I don't think we could have played any worse in the second. The thing I'm proud of is we figured out a way to win the game, and that's the important thing. As long as these guys are willing to receive the message, we have a lot that we can teach and we have a lot that we can learn from a win.''
UP NEXT: The Colonials play at Quinnipiac Thursday night. The Bobcats should be well rested. Their game at Central Connecticut State last Saturday was postponed until Sunday because of the Nemo snowstorm in the Northeast. Then it was postponed until Monday night. And then it was postponed indefinitely.
NEC NUGGETS: RMU's overtime game against Wagner was its 10th overtime game in seven seasons but the first at the Sewall Center since Feb. 17, 2007 - a 102-97 double-overtime loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. In that game, Terrier Jamaal Womack scored 31 points and made 9-of-13 from deep, including a game-tying three that forced the first overtime. Former Colonial Tony Lee (2004-08) also scored 31 points, his career high ... In the only other NEC game played Saturday night, Mount St. Mary's won at Saint Francis University, 69-58. Shivaughn Wiggins led the Mountaineers with 22 points and was 10-for-10 from the free throw line ... On Sunday, LIU Brooklyn beat St. Francis Brooklyn, 83-75, in a game played at the Barclays Center. St. Francis Brooklyn led, 75-72, with 2:56 left but didn't score again, going 0 for 5 from the field. The Blackbirds scored the final 11 points, including six by Jamal Olasewere, who led LIU Brooklyn with 20 points. Akeem Johnson scored 22 points for the Terriers. P.J. Santavenere scored 16 in 20 minutes off the bench and had a perfect game. He was 6-of-6 from the field, including a trey, and 3-for-3 from the line ... Also, Sunday, in one of three games rescheduled because of the snowstorm in the Northeast, Monmouth won at Fairleigh Dickinson, 80-76. Jesse Steele had 28 points for the Hawks, while Melquan Bolding scored 20 for the Knights, who lost their ninth straight game ... First-place Bryant, a half-game ahead of Robert Morris, had its game against Sacred Heart, originally scheduled for last Saturday night, postponed until Feb. 25 because of Nemo.