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Can Robert Morris Keep Hot Start in NEC Going Down the Stretch?



MOON TOWNSHIP Pa. — Robert Morris has hit the midway point of Northeast Conference play in the 2019-20 season. They currently are on a two-game win streak, as they beat Long Island and Bryant in the past week. Head coach Andy Toole and his squad are 7-2 in conference play, in second place behind 8-1 Merrimack.

However, this has been a common theme for the Colonials in the last few seasons.

In 2017-18, RMU also started 7-2. Then they lost four straight and finished the regular season 9-9. In 2018-19 they once again began NEC play 7-2 but finished 11-7.

Junior guard Jon Williams has been a part of the program for each of those seasons and knows that the team must have a different mindset this year, at this stage in the season.

“I’ve been here three years, and we started off great all three years,” Williams said. “The talk in the locker room is that we need to continue [to stay locked in] and continue to finish strong, and not lose sight of what’s important,”

For any college basketball team, what’s most important is to be playing your best basketball at the end of February through March, and inevitably making the NCAA tournament.

Regular season NEC basketball matters, sure, but only the sole winner of the conference tournament gets the only automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The top eight of eleven teams get to participate in the NEC tournament based on their conference records. So, the non-conference record is thrown out of the window right as conference play begins.

This 7-2 start from RMU is significant, but this shouldn’t be the peak of their season. Luckily, they haven’t been playing their best basketball. Against Bryant on Thursday, they won ugly, as they shot just 30% in the first half of the game.

“I thought we were setting the game of basketball back,” Toole said with a laugh. “But you have two teams that are [still] going to compete hard.”

And that’s always been Robert Morris’ DNA under Toole.

“When we guard, we give ourselves a chance,” Toole said. “[Then], we can figure it out on offense and stay together.”

This year, there have been times where the RMU offense has been running like a well-oiled machine and has won them games. Thanks to their two guys that they can count on to drop 20 points on a given night, Josh Williams and AJ Bramah. But they never rarely rely on one guy, because they know that contributions on both ends, from everyone, will make it easier to get where they want at the end of the season. Conference games at this juncture of the season come down to defensive stops and offensive plays in the last few minutes of the game.

They currently rank second in the NEC in 3-point field goal percentage, defensive 3-point field goal percentage, and rebounding defense. That explains their success, with the way basketball is played anymore. They knock down threes but defend the other team well and cap it off by limiting second-chance points with their rebounding.

Despite the success, the Colonials are aware of where they stand right now, compared to the last few seasons – but aren’t letting up.

“We can’t get comfortable and complacent,” Williams said. “Practices have been hard and scrappy. Coach Toole has done a good job of like letting us know that there’s no days off.”

“It’s because you lose your focus,” Toole said about falling apart near the home stretch. “You lose the edge, the mentality. You just assume you’re going to show up and win, and that’s the first step in kind of disaster. We’ll continue to remind them that we’ve got to make sure that we’re maximizing each day.”

Robert Morris is back in action on Saturday, Feb. 1, against Central Connecticut [1-9 NEC] at the UPMC Events Center in Moon Township.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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