Monday was a very happy birthday for A.J. Rompza, as he helped the Knights push deeper into the postseason with a 66-54 win over Rhode Island.
“We want to keep this going as long as we can,” Rompza said after the game.
The Knights missed a chance at the NCAA Tournament after a poor showing in the Conference USA championship, but they have come alive in the College Basketball Invitational.
They’ve seen some tough competition on the way. It took a dramatic comeback effort for the Knights to take down the Rams, as they pushed from behind with a 7-point deficit in the first half to eventually go on a rally that would pull them 14 points ahead.
The Knights took total control of the game within a minute after halftime, tying the score 30-30. From there, the Knights ran all over the Rams, with big scoring efforts from Keith Clanton, A.J. Tyler and Tom Herzog.
Clanton scored 16 points, including a momentum-changing 3-point shot, along with a team-leading 9 rebounds. Tyler’s 11 points helped propel the team in its big second half run. Herzog got the crowd into the game with resounding dunks over Rams players and found frequent opportunities in the paint. He scored 10 points in the game.
Coach Donnie Jones said he was impressed with play from the bench, which scored more points than the starters.
“There were times in the early season when we wouldn’t play our bench,” Jones said. “But our bench was huge tonight.”
Rompza once again kept the team’s momentum going, with big efforts on both ends of the court resulting in 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Isaiah Sykes had a big game, slamming home two big dunks to electrify the crowd, one coming on a breakaway during the Knights’ big scoring run. He would finish the game with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 of the team’s 5 steals.
Sykes has emerged as an unsung hero on the stat sheets, Jones said.
“When you think about Isaiah Sykes, you think of disruption,” Jones said. “He keeps us in a lot of basketball games.”
The Knights moved on to play Creighton on Wednesday night at press time. They had to travel to Omaha, Neb., for that game, against the top scoring team in the CBI tournament. With a win, the Knights could be championship-bound March 28.
“We want to be able to keep this thing alive and win this,” Jones said.