PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Robert Morris is off to a surprising 4-0 start in Northeast conference play, and freshman Koby Thomas is a big reason why the Colonials sit atop the league standings.
Thomas was tabbed the NEC Rookie of the Week on Monday for a conference-leading fourth time this season after averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in wins over St. Francis Brooklyn and LIU Brooklyn last week.
On the season, the 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 13 points and six rebounds, tops among all NEC rookies, and he’s scored in double-figures in all but five of the Colonials’ 17 games. He’s also building a reputation as a ferocious dunker, but the soft-spoken Philadelphia native believes he still has better basketball to play.
“I’m playing ok,” Thomas said. “I’m not playing to my best yet. I still got good basketball to play, but I think my performance has been helping the team a lot. As a freshman, having a lot of confidence and being one of the leaders on the team.”
This between the legs dish by Leondre Washington to Koby Thomas for the transition jam was ???? . Thomas finished with 17p/7r & Dachon Burke led 5 RMU players in double digits with 20p. @RMUAthletics now 4-0 in #NECMBB play after 88-79 win over LIU Brooklyn at PPG this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/D2Kt0PC4Nb
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) January 6, 2018
Thomas had arguably his best game in the overtime win against St. Francis Brooklyn, scoring 16 points and pulling down 12 rebounds to collect his first career double-double. He followed that up with 17 points against LIU Brooklyn on Saturday, including scoring seven of the Colonials’ first nine points to start the second half.
His basket with 8:52 left put Robert Morris ahead for good, and after the Blackbirds had trimmed the lead to one with 3:11 remaining, Thomas came through again, sparking a quick 7-2 Colonial run. Head coach Andy Toole praised Thomas and freshman Leondre Washington in his postgame comments for their energy to start the second half.
“I thought Koby Thomas and Leondre really gave us a spark from an energy perspective to start the half, and I think that became contagious and allowed us to get enough stops down the stretch and execute enough offense to get us the win,” Toole said.
Robert Morris opened conference play with back-to-back double-digit road wins, but the games against St. Francis Brooklyn and LIU Brooklyn were nip-and-tuck affairs. On the season, the Colonials are 5-1 in games decided nine points or less, which is remarkable considering the team is mainly comprised of freshmen and newcomers.
“We’re staying together and not giving up—there’s no quitters on the team,” Thomas said. “Close games and overtime, we all just try to stay together and talk to each other. Communication is key.”
Picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches’ poll, Thomas and his teammates are motivated to outperform that distinction.
— Northeast Conference (@NECsports) January 8, 2018
“I think it shows us the respect the conference had for us and the coaches, so we just have to prove everybody wrong,” Thomas said. “We have a mindset we’ve got to outwork everybody.”
So far, the Colonials have, and they have a chance to do it again Thursday with a 7 p.m. tilt against St. Francis U. The Red Flash has won four straight against the Colonials and five of six overall.
Picked to win the league, the St. Francis U enters the matchup a game behind Robert Morris in the standings with a 3-1 mark. Since suffering a four-point loss to Central Connecticut State on Dec. 29 to open conference play, the Red Flash has won three straight games.
“They were picked No. 1 in the conference, and we were picked No. 7,” Thomas said. “I look at this game like they’re No. 1 and we’re last and we want to get to that No. 1 spot.”