Providence, R.I. -- The Robert Morris University men's basketball team's 2009-10 season came to an end Thursday afternoon in heartbreaking fashion as Villanova slipped past the Colonials in overtime, 73-70, as part of the South Regional of the 2010 NCAA Tournament at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
RMU concludes its 2009-10 campaign with an overall record of 23-12, while the Wildcats improved to 25-7.
Villanova's Scottie Reynolds was benched, his shot wasn't falling and his Wildcats were on the brink of having their NCAA Tournament run end in the biggest of upsets. He responded with a clutch performance at the foul line in the final minutes of regulation, and No. 2 seed Villanova survived a scare from Robert Morris.
Robert Morris was leading, 55-47, with 4:19 left in the second half, but Reynolds attacked the basket and led a fearless rally from the free-throw line. His reliable stroke was absent, converting just two of his 15 shots from the field. At one stretch, Reynolds converted seven straight points at the free-throw line, the last of which with 1:24 remaining in regulation tying the game, 56-56.
Freshman Karon Abraham (Paterson, N.J. / Harp Academy) pushed RMU back in front, 58-56, with a running layup, but Mouphtaou Yarou tied the game at 58 with a layup with just 52 seconds to go in the second half.
Villanova had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds of regulation, but Maurice Sutton's layup as time expired was off the mark.
The Wildcats scored the first six points of the extra frame to take a 64-58 advantage, but a 9-4 run by Robert Morris helped the Colonials close within one, 68-67, with just 35 seconds to go.
The key play came courtesy of senior guard Mezie Nwigwe (Hyattsville, Md. / High Point), who picked the pocket of Corey Stokes deep in RMU territory and found the basket for a layup.
Yarou would hit a pair at the line after a foul by Abraham to keep Villanova in front, 70-67, and after a missed layup by Abraham, Reggie Redding had a chance to close out the game but pulled away from the basket, with senior forward Dallas Green (Indianapolis, Indiana / Northwest) fouling him with 16 seconds to go.
Redding hit just one of the free throws, and Abraham buried his fifth three-pointer of the contest to close RMU within one, 71-70, with just 10 seconds remaining.
Reynolds would convert a pair at the charity stripe to increase Villanova's lead back to three, 73-70, and Nwigwe's off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer was no good.
The Northeast Conference champion Colonials left the court to a standing ovation -- even from Villanova's mascot.
The Wildcats, trying to reach their second straight Final Four, entered having lost five of seven and were a surprising pick for the No. 2 seed in the South Regional.
That was only the start of the shockers.
First came the news that Reynolds, their team leader and top scorer had been benched. Then Robert Morris nearly sent them all packing way earlier than expected.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright made the bold move to sit Reynolds at the start of the game to make a "teaching point." He declined to reveal the reasons behind the disciplinary action against Villanova's leading scorer.
Reynolds said he got the message.
"You have to be excellent all the time, put it like that," Reynolds said. "You can't have any flaws, even if it's so minor, even an inch, because that's the margin of victory."
Reynolds and Corey Fisher were both benched for the start, but their punishment didn't last long. Reynolds sat out four minutes and Fisher checked in about 30 seconds later.
Reynolds hit his only three-pointer of the game in overtime to give the Wildcats a cushion, and although Abraham kept the Colonials close, it wasn't enough.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," Abraham said. "They put on a jersey, just like I put on a jersey."
Abraham, a 5'9" guard with a mohawk, put most of the sold-out crowd solidly behind Robert Morris in the second half on a pair of highlight reel plays. His first came from just beyond the arc, when he banked an off-balance three-pointer and crashed to the court on a foul. He made the free throw for the rare four-point play and a 42-34 lead.
He followed that by scooting down the baseline and tossing up a one-handed layup that went up and in for an eight-point lead and brought out cheers of "Robert Morris! Robert Morris!"
"When he hit that (bank), 'Oh my God," Wright said.
The Colonials came out firing from three-point range in an early attempt to rattle the Wildcats. Abraham sank his first three from beyond the arc, including a run-and-shoot from way beyond the arc that brought the fans to life, and helped them take a lead they wouldn't relinquish until there was 1:48 left.
Robert Morris led at halftime, 28-22, but never could build the lead to double digits, even with a 21-10 edge on the boards and holding the Wildcats to only 30 percent shooting at the break.
"I'm never going to forget us playing Villanova, almost beating Villanova, up by six with two minutes left in the game," Green said. "I'll never forget that experience. That's it."
Abraham led the Colonials by tying a career-high with 23 points, hitting seven of his 15 shots from the floor, including a 5-for-11 performance from beyond the arc. Nwigwe added 13 points while Green posted nine points and seven rebounds.
Reynolds scored 15 of his team-high 20 points at the free-throw line for Villanova, while Yarou added 17 points and eight rebounds and Taylor King finished with 10 points.
Note: The Associated Press contributed to this story.