MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – In college basketball, the idea of Fool’s Gold isn’t a concept teams tend to consider amidst fiery scoring surges, high field goal percentages or inspired win streaks. But then again, why would they? Confidence is a critical component of success. Doubt and skepticism, however, are not.
So, when Robert Morris began its Northeast Conference slate by averaging 82 points-per-game over four wins while leading the league in field goal percentage (.521), three-point field goal percentage (.479), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.72), and a +20 scoring margin, the Colonials didn’t exactly anticipate a reality check coming in their near future.
Andy Toole wasn’t nearly as surprised by it, though.
“Probably the way we shot it last weekend was a little Fool’s Gold,” said Toole after his team dropped a 53-49 decision to Merrimack on Saturday. “You come back down to your averages, but I think players don’t always believe in Fool’s Gold. They think those things are just going to continue forever.”
Robert Morris’ (8-11, 4-1) first conference loss was a drastic opposite of its previous four wins. The 49 points were a season-low, as was its 13.3 percent mark (2-15) from beyond the arc. The Colonials never took control of the pace, struggled to score at a consistent clip and couldn’t find stops when they needed them. In a second half that featured 11 lead changes and seven ties, Jaleel Lord’s layup with 1:44 left put Merrimack (11-8, 5-1) ahead, 51-49, and ultimately for good to snap RMU’s four-game streak and move into a tie for first place in the conference.
Dante Treacy and Josh Williams had opportunities to tie the game via 1-and-1 free-throw attempts in the final minute, but both failed to convert. Treacy also missed a 3 from the left corner that would have gave Robert Morris the lead. Williams, who entered the matchup averaging 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds over his last two games, finished with just nine points and four rebounds after missing 13 of his 16 shot attempts. The Colonials led in rebounding (29-27), assists (15-7), free-throw percentage (75-72), bench points (25-14), points in the paint (28-26) and time with the lead (20:03-11:46) …. and still lost.
Needless to say, it was a game they not only could’ve won, but should have won.
Instead, they didn’t.
“I just think we got a little too excited,” said Treacy. “Now, we’ve got that pit in our stomach. …You’ve got to humble yourself.”
Lord scored the Warriors’ final six points to end with a team-high 14, and Juvaris Hayes shot 6-for-10 with 12 points. AJ Bramah led the Colonials with a game-high 16 points and four rebounds off the bench. Savyveon McEwen added nine points, while Treacy finished with five points and seven assists.
The first half was ugly in all capacities. Robert Morris built an initial 9-2 lead, but stalled amidst an 8-0 Merrimack run that put the Warriors back in front. Each side would trade leads twice before the first half ended, where Robert Morris shot a lowly 8-27 from the field, including 1-7 from beyond the arc against Merrimack’s stifling 2-3 zone. The Warriors weren’t much better, though, at 8-22 from the floor and 1-8 from deep. A two-handed slam from Bramah to end the first half put the Colonials ahead, 23-22, at the break.
The Colonials recovered with a 55.1 shooting percentage in the final 20 minutes, but it was ultimately to no avail. Merrimack shot 45 percent for the game, and led by as much as five points in the second half – its largest lead of the night.
“I thought we were a step slow in a lot of our cutting, our decision-making, our urgency on both ends of the floor,” said Toole. “Give Merrimack credit. They came out and controlled the tempo and made some adjustments from the first game and we weren’t able to counter those with our own. So, (it’s a) disappointing lesson I guess that we’ll have to learn and try and grow from.”
In the first Robert Morris/Merrimack meeting on January 4, the Colonials garnered a 68-59 win on the road. They faced a three-point deficit at halftime, but outscored Merrimack, 44-30, in the final 20 minutes with a 45 percent clip from the field against the same 2-3 zone the Warriors employed Saturday.
“Like Toole said in the locker room, they put the brakes on us,” said Treacy. “We didn’t play at the pace we needed to.”
The slow pace coupled with stingy perimeter defense knocked Williams out of rhythm, which in turn affected the team’s collective offensive output. Until Saturday, Williams struggling to score wasn’t an obstacle the Colonials have been forced to overcome in conference play. When his shots weren’t falling, their offense eroded. Fast.
“I think it’s an eye-opener to show you that there’s so much more you can do besides make shots,” said Williams. “Like, did we screen enough to get other teammates open? Did we attack the rim enough? Did we play better defense to stop them from scoring when we’re not scoring?
“If I have a shooting night like that, I have to find other ways to get my teammates involved,” he later said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t feel overly smothered, but I do understand I’ve got to do more to boost the morale of the team other than just scoring.”
Robert Morris will look to bounce back in a home matchup with Sacred Heart on Jan. 20.