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Small colleges: A mix of old and new for Robert Morris basketball

Updated: December 30, 2013 12:06PM

Robert Morris has a proud basketball tradition, with NAIA Final Fours in 2002, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’09 and ’10 to go with a string of Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships.

But last season, the Eagles were on the outside looking in, going 17-14 as an independent. Back in the CCAC this season, Robert Morris is back on track with a 6-1 record and No. 6 ranking in NAIA Division II.

‘‘It was not the kind of year we wanted to have,’’ said coach Al Bruehl, in his 17th season at the Chicago school. ‘‘Being an independent was tough. That’s why we came back to the CCAC.’’

The Eagles came back with reinforcements. They’ll be tested Friday and Saturday at the Lindsey Wilson tournament in Columbia, Ky., where they’ll play St. Catherine and host Lindsey Wilson, ranked 10th in NAIA Division I.

‘‘We’re pretty new together,’’ Bruehl said. ‘‘We only have two returning starters back. We added a couple of freshmen and four transfers.’’

The transfers include 6-6 forward Cortney Bell, who started his college career at Prairie View A&M, and his former Lincoln Park High School teammate, 5-10 guard Demarko Nash, who was at Texas Pan American. Another former NCAA Division I recruit, 6-0 guard Greg Travis, was at UIC, then at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College before joining the Eagles.

Senior Sean Montgomery, a 6-6 forward who started his career at Chicago State, has stepped up his game, averaging 22.4 points a game after putting up 13.7 last season.

As all the new pieces mesh, Bruehl is confident.

‘‘We’re still trying to find ourselves and got off to a good start,” he said, ‘‘but I think our quickness and athleticism is going to keep us in the games most of the time.’’

Cardinals’ big week

Fourth-ranked North Central (11-0) rolled to a 63-7 triumph over Albion (8-3) in the first round of the NCAA Division  III football playoffs. The Cardinals rolled up 372 yards rushing with eight different ballcarriers getting into the act. Quarterback Spencer Stanek completed 11 of 17 passes for 184 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Cardinals advanced to a second-round game at home Saturday against No. 7 Wisconsin Platteville (10-1).

North Central’s cross country team, meanwhile, finished second in the NCAA Division III championships in Hanover, Ind.. The Cardinals’ 86 points left them two behind champion St.  Olaf. John Crain led the way for North Central, finishing second overall in 24:33.1. It was the second consecutive all-American finish for Crain, who was sixth last year.

Calumet cruising

Purdue Calumet, ranked 21st in NAIA Division II women’s basketball, has come up big against NCAA opposition. On Saturday, the visiting Peregrines knocked off NCAA Division II No.  18 Indianapolis 87-80. Brooklyn Short led the way with a career-high 26 points. Then, on Tuesday, freshman Cassidy Deno scored 15 points to lead five Peregrines in double figures in a 68-62 victory at Division I Chicago State.

Calumet (5-2) gets back into NAIA action Saturday at home against Ashford.

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