That left the Colonials with just a seven-player rotation to use against a tough Long Island team that was opening the Northeast Conference season at home, where the Blackbirds were 15-3 in NEC games the previous two seasons.
And did we mention that those seven players were all freshman and sophomores? And that four of those seven had never played in an NEC game?
And yet, against staggering odds, those seven Colonials got it done, surviving a 70-69 test that they passed impressively.
"Duct tape. Bubble gum. You talk about hanging on,'' first-year RMU head coach Andrew Toole said. "You have to give credit to our guys. Guy after guy who went into the game, they all made plays. We were clearly undermanned, but everybody was committed to making one extra play. Or two extra plays.
"We really had no other option. Either you come in and make plays or we lose the game.''
The Colonials also were severely hampered by foul trouble.
In a five-minute span midway through the second half, four Colonials picked up a fourth personal foul. Three minutes later, Lijah Thompson became the fifth saddled with four fouls. Only Yann Charles fouled out (with 2:57 left), but Toole had to deal with a lot of delicate lineup management down the hectic stretch.
"We were crossing our fingers,'' Toole said. "It was, 'Get a (defensive) stop, get a rebound and get a good shot.' That sort of became our mantra - 'Get a stop, get a rebound, get a good shot.'''
Despite all the difficulties, the Colonials did own a 52-38 lead with 13:42 remaining. However, six minutes later, Long Island held a 58-56 edge, setting the stage for a frantic finish.
After redshirt freshman Coron Williams made a three-pointer that gave RMU a 70-67 lead with 2:44 left, the Colonials had to hold on mightily.
In those final two minutes and change, the Colonials needed to extend their possessions to keep the Blackbirds from having the ball.
"We needed to shrink the game,'' Toole said. "And in those two minutes, Coron Williams had two offensive rebounds that I've never seen in my life. That allowed us to shrink the game.''
Still, Long Island had the ball with 21 seconds left, down a point.
The Colonials rose to the challenge one final time.
With 11 seconds left, Blackbird point guard C.J. Garner put up a shot and missed. Teammate Jamal Olasewere rebounded and shot. And missed. Olasewere got another rebound and shot. And missed. Finally, with one second left, RMU freshman guard Anthony Myers grabbed the last rebound.
It was over.
"Those last 20 seconds seemed like 20 minutes,'' Toole said. "You had bodies on the floor. You'd see an arm come up trying to smack the ball away. We have guys who fight and compete.''
Thursday night, those guys had to compete in uncharacteristic fashion.
Because of their foul problems, the Colonials played about 10 minutes of zone defense in the first half - during which Long Island went 0 for 16 from beyond the arc - and played another five minutes of zone in the second half.
"We played about 15 minutes of zone - and that's probably more zone than we've played in the last three years combined,'' Toole said. "I don't know if (the Blackbirds) were ready for it. We don't play a lot of zone.''
The Colonials received some huge contributions offensively.
Sophomore guard Velton Jones scored 20 points. Thompson had his second straight 12-point game. Charles added 10 points. And Williams had 13 points, nine of which came courtesy of 3-for-5 accuracy from deep.
"I call him 'Ratchet' because when he shoots you know it's going in,'' Wallace said. "We just start running back down court. If he can get his confidence up and start knocking down shots like (that), I think it's going to be very hard to defend us.''
Williams has had the reputation of being a good outside shooter, but it's only been in the past few games that he's begun to show that.
"He's working on it,'' Toole said. "He's watching film. He's coming in and getting extra shots. He's learning how to use screens. He's learning how to shot-fake and all those different things.''
"And I'll continue to work on my shot,'' Williams said. "My teammates see it, so they continue to trust me and I love it.''
Myers continued to emerge as a force for the Colonials.
Because of the absences of Abraham and Wallace, he had to play 35 minutes, primarily as the point guard. He scored only four points, but he had just two turnovers and led the Colonials with nine assists and seven rebounds.
"Huge heart,'' Toole said of Myers. "Defensively, he was really working hard. He played the point in our zone defense. He'd swoop down and get a rebound, swoop down and get a rebound. He gave us exactly what we needed.''
The Colonials will need more of the same this afternoon when they play at St. Francis (N.Y.) at 4:30.
Again, they'll be without Abraham and Bridges. Toole hopes he can at least use Wallace defensively Saturday, but Wallace won't be able to contribute offensively.
"It's going to be another battle,'' Toole said. "St. Francis is a tough, aggressive, scrappy team. It's going to be another test of our will. We're going to have to be creative with our lineups in order to get guys some rest. Everybody who plays will be expected to play Robert Morris basketball.''
NOTES: Toole said former RMU coach Mike Rice, who's now at Rutgers, plans to attend the St. Francis (N.Y.) game … The Terriers beat visiting Saint Francis (Pa.), 57-44, in an NEC opener Thursday evening … Akeem Bennett led St. Francis (N.Y.) with 22 points, while forward Stefan Perunicic played 39 minutes and scored 10 points … Perunicic was just 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, while the Terriers made only 11-of-23 free throw attempts.
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