Robert Morris wins NEC title, NCAA tourney bid with jumper in final seconds

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. -- With the clock winding down, Robert Morris rushed to take a potential winning shot. Top scorer Jeremy Chappell got the ball, only to have it knocked out of his hands and directly to teammate Dallas Green.

Coach Mike Rice's only thought: Oh, no, not him.

Oh, yes.

Green picked up the loose ball and made a hurried shot with 2.5 seconds remaining for his only basket of the game, and regular-season champion Robert Morris shook off its tournament jinx against Mount St. Mary's for a 48-46 victory Wednesday night in the Northeast Conference championship game.

Chappell scored 15 points as Robert Morris (24-10), rallying from five points down in the second half to beat the 2008 champion Mountaineers (19-13) for the third time this season, withstood a ragged performance on its home court to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years.

"He probably was the fifth guy on the floor I would have picked [to take the shot]," Rice said. "His nickname is the screen machine, for all the screens he sets. We ran the play I wanted, but they knocked it away and Dallas went and got it."

Chappell then batted the ball loose on the Mountaineers' inbounds play, and moments later a school-record crowd of 3,227 swarmed the court to celebrate the kind of scene that makes March special. A team that wouldn't be a factor in a much-bigger conference becomes one of the big boys, if only for one night.

Losing was tough enough for the Mountaineers after they couldn't hold the lead, but losing the way they did made it worse.

"It hurts more because I'd rather see a guy who make shots his whole career [win the game]," Jeremy Goode said. "It was his first basket and he makes a shot like that -- it hurts worse."

Green, a 6-foot-8 junior from Indianapolis, averages 6.9 points but had made only a single free throw in the title game before making the decisive 8-footer close to the baseline.

Afterward, he said, smiling "I'm from Indiana, so I've got that touch."

"Part of March is making shots, and it was the first shot he [Green] made the whole game," the Mountaineers' Kelly Beidler said. "Unfortunately, it was at the end of the game."

Each of the previous two seasons, the Colonials swept the regular season series from Mount St. Mary's, only to lose to the Mountaineers at home in the tournament.

Robert Morris won despite the potential distraction caused by a simple assault charge filed this week against Mezie Nwigwe following a late-night incident in Pittsburgh last week. He scored three points in 18 minutes.

"Our No. 1 weakness coming into this year was mental toughness," Rice said. "Things wouldn't go our way and we'd start arguing with the referees or each other, and they don't like being critiqued by me. But we were rock-solid dudes in that huddle tonight -- bricklaying dudes, maybe, but rock-solid dudes."

Robert Morris shot 34 percent (18-of-53).

Chappell, the MVP of the Northeast regular season and tournament, hit a 3-pointer to put the Colonials ahead 46-44 with 1:42 remaining, but Shawn Atupem made two free throws with 1:17 remaining to tie it.

Beidler scored 12 and Atupem had 11 for Mount St. Mary's, which missed 11 of 12 3-point attempts while being denied its second successive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Mount St. Mary's went on a 7-0 run to take a 40-35 lead on Markus Mitchell's basket with 6:56 remaining. The Mountaineers also had a chance to expand on a five-point lead at 42-37, but Jean Cajou took a pair of long 3-pointers on successive possessions instead of trying to work the clock for better shots.

Both teams obviously had the we're-on-TV jitters in the first half, when the Colonials missed 17 of their first 23 shots and Chappell, averaging 22 points in the tournament, didn't score until making two free throws with 3:17.

However, Mount St. Mary's -- which shot 39.1 percent overall (18-of-46) -- couldn't take advantage, managing only a 19-all halftime tie.

Robert Morris, 5-0 in conference championship games played on its home court, didn't take its first lead until Jimmy Langhurst converted two free throws resulting from a technical foul with 55.6 seconds remaining, making it 19-17.

The Mountaineers came out of a timeout only to call another one as soon as taking the ball out, after realizing they had six players on the court, resulting in an automatic technical.

That extra player might help the Northeast next week.

No Northeast team has won anything in the NCAAs other than a play-in game or a game held to determine the last-seeded team in a region, and the conference hasn't had a team seeded higher than 13th since there were only 12 teams in a region.

Last year, Mount St. Mary's beat Coppin State 69-60 in the play-in game, then lost to North Carolina 113-74.