Bobcats miss out on March Madness [Slideshow]

Lenny Neslin

Photo credits: Amanda Shulman

When Quinnipiac senior guard James Feldeine came around Jonathan Cruz’s screen near the high post and received a pass from point guard James Johnson with 10 seconds left and his team down by two, he held his and the Bobcats’ dreams of making the big dance in his hands.

“Every time it leaves my hand, I’m saying to myself, ‘It’s going in,’ ” said Feldeine, who made the same shot on the same play to give the Bobcats a 36-34 lead earlier in the second half.

But this time it didn’t go down. And the Robert Morris Colonials defeated the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team, 52-50, on Wednesday night in front of an all-time high 3,607 fans at the TD Bank Sports Center and an ESPN2 audience.

“I thought it was a foul,” Feldeine said after wiping tears from his eyes in the postgame news conference. “It wasn’t a foul; it was good defense by Dallas Green.”

Green, who made the game-winning shot in last year’s NEC Championship game, said his team expected Feldeine or Rutty to take the final shot.

“Luckily they didn’t call a foul,” he said.

Green was fouled three seconds later and made both free throws to seal Quinnipiac’s fate and silence the student section. Johnson hustled down the floor and drained two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket. Colonial guard Karon Abraham, the unanimous NEC Rookie of the Year and the tournament’s most valuable player, missed two free throws to give Johnson and the Bobcats a chance at a game-winning, half-court shot.

But it didn’t go down.

“I wanted to go out on top,” Feldeine said. “I just told my team, these are my brothers. We fought through so much. Nobody out there thought we’d be here. I wanted this for our team, Coach Moore, for everybody.”

The loss was Quinnipiac’s first at home this season. Robert Morris captured its seventh NEC title, adding to its league-high, and are 7-2 all-time in NEC championship games. The Colonials also became the first team to repeat as NEC champions since Rider University won it all in 1993 and 1994.

“There wasn’t a moment in the game where you could take a breath,” Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice said. “This was a battle from the first minute to the last minute.”

NEC Defensive Player of the Year Mezie Nwigwe helped Robert Morris (23-11, 15-3 NEC) become the second team all season to outrebound the Bobcats (23-9, 15-3 NEC), 35-34.

“They played an absolutely incredible defensive basketball game tonight,” Moore said. “To hold us in this gym and this atmosphere to six field goals in the second half and 35-percent shooting for the game is a phenomenal defensive accomplishment.”

Photo credits: Al Valerio

Along with every Bobcat basket and Colonial miss came a loud roar from the standing student section. When junior guard Deontay Twyman nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to give Quinnipiac a 46-45 lead with 3:24 remaining, the crowd had never been louder.

“I thought we battled really with our grit, with our heart, and our emotion and tried to play off the crowd as much as we could,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I thought right until inside of a minute we’d win the game.”

Green was fouled on the next play and he tied the game up when he made his second free throw. Velton Jones sank a floater in the lane with 1:18 left gave Robert Morris the lead for good.

Jones had four of his team’s 13 steals compared to Quinnipiac’s six for the game. The Colonial defense stalled Feldeine at 17 points for the final 10 minutes and held NEC Player of the Year Justin Rutty to 12 points.

“I think it was just a battle between two teams that love to play defense, preach defense every day of practice,” Feldeine said. “It showed that defense wins games, defense wins championships.”

Though, Rutty did collect his seventh consecutive double-double with 10 boards, five coming on the offensive glass.

Robert Morris will play in the NCAA Tournament late next week, while Quinnipiac will play in the National Invitation Tournament.

Quinnipiac went on an 11-0 run to give them a 15-10 lead early in the game, taking the lead on Rutty’s and-1 play with 8:27 remaining. The Bobcats didn’t relinquish the lead until Abraham tied it up to start the second half.

“I was hopeful all game that we would pop a 10-2 run off some transition hoops,” Moore said. “I also thought we’d make a few more open shots to give us a little separation. They can really, really wear you down defensively.”

Quinnipiac did its part to manage Robert Morris’ offense by holding the Colonials to a season-low 52 points. One of the main cogs for Quinnipiac’s defense is senior captain Jeremy Baker, who substituted in and out of the lineup frequently down the stretch and took a pivotal charge with 5:12 remaining.

“Jeremy’s leadership is off the charts,” Moore said. “His toughness is off the charts. We’ll miss him dearly on so many levels next year. It doesn’t surprise me he took the charge. He’s got a competitive will that’s as big as any kid I’ve ever been around.”

Although the loss led to a sobbing Quinnipiac bench, the program has the future lined up after earning its first regular-season crown and winning the most games ever in team history.

“I felt we were going to win the game all night,” Moore said. “Last year we built a ton of character. I thought that set up this year. We’re hoping tonight will set up next year. That’s our hope. It’s building a program.”