MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — All was well as Robert Morris entered its North Athletic Complex locker room at halftime of its College Basketball Insider (CIT) matchup with Presbyterian College on Sunday.The Colonials (18-17), having shot 54.8 percent in the first 20 minutes, held a 44-31 advantage over the Blue Hose and looked well on their way to advancing to the CIT quarterfinals to face Marshall on Mar. 24.
But then, rather abruptly, everything crumbled in a matter of minutes – 3:55 to be exact. Presbyterian opened the second half on a 15-0 run, took a 46-44 lead with 16:05 to go and never looked back to end Robert Morris’ season with a 77-70 win.
“It’s disappointing being up at the half and not being able to maintain the lead or win the game,” said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole. “We talked about their ability to make 3s, and making 14 of them is a big number. It’s especially because of the way they started the game and the second half.”
The Blue Hose shot nearly 50 percent on their 3-point attempts (14-of-31), connecting on four of their first five to begin the game and four of their first four to begin the second half.
“Those were nine of the 14 they made over the course of the game,” Toole said. “I think that really was the difference.”
After committing just one turnover by halftime, Robert Morris turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes of the second half while Presbyterian made its run. With the game in constant transition, the Colonials were unable to run fluid offensive sets that set their defense – causing the game to slip out from their grasps as they scrambled to maintain momentum.
“We break our four-minute segments up in rounds, and we lost that four-minute round by 18 points,” said senior Matty McConnell.”I thought they just came out and hit shots and we were lazy. We knew they were a good 3-point shooting team. They (usually) attempt 30 or 40 a game, and that’s what they came out and did.
“In our rotations, (we didn’t) get out to shooters. In transition, if we turned the ball over we didn’t sprint back. It gave them easy layups and got their momentum going.”
Charles Bain paced the Colonials with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Jon Williams (11 points), Josh Williams (10 points), Koby Thomas (10 points) and McConnell (10 points) all scored in double figures as well. The team shot 40.3 percent from the field (27-67) and a poor 23.3 percent (7-30) from beyond the arc. Although the Colonials defended well in spurts, they lacked the focus and energy required to limit an offensive-first team that lives and dies from beyond the arc for a full 40 minutes.
“I thought at times about going a little bit smaller, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” said Toole. “We tried to have some guys out there. Yannis (Mendy) doesn’t switch very well on ball-screens and that’s how they get a lot of their advantages. We played Koby (Thomas) and (Charles) Bain a lot so they could switch on those screens and not allow them to get as much dribble penetration that allows kick outs an drop offs for buckets.”
Sunday marked the final game for McConnell in a Robert Morris uniform. The decorated senior concluded his Moon Township career 18th on the all-time scoring list, compiling 1,156 points in 129 career games (120 starts). He finished as the second player in school history to compile more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 200 steals.
“That all just shows to his versatility and ability to fill up a stat sheet,” Toole said.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said McConnell. “I still feel like I’ll need to wake up for practice tomorrow. I told the guys ‘I tried to lay the groundwork for you.’ I think the coaches helped me do that. We did a great job. This team’s gonna be back next year, and won’t be one to mess with. This team isn’t finished.
“I know I’m gonna miss this place, but I just tried to lay the groundwork for the future.”
The unfortunate conclusion to Robert Morris’ postseason berth was a microcosm of its entire 2018-19 campaign; a few steps forward, and then a few more back. The Colonials finished just a game above .500 (18-17) in a season that – at one point – had the potential to end with a Northeast Conference title and NCAA tournament berth. The Colonials began NEC play with a 7-1 mark and held sole possession of first place, but lost four of their final six games to enter the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed without home-court advantage – eventually leading to a 66-62 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson.
After an overtime win over Cornell to begin the CIT, The Colonials’ season came to a close Sunday with lingering thoughts about all that could’ve been – but wasn’t – manifested.
“I thought there were a lot of positives to the year,” said Toole. “There was a lot of growth. Some guys got better individually, I think our team got better as a whole. It’s really hard to win Division I games. And so, you have to make sure you’re taking care of everything you can control every day. There were times that we didn’t do that and obviously didn’t play well as a result.
“I think overall there were strides made in the right direction. They were a good group of guys to coach and fun to be around. That’s just as important as all of it.”