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Big Call: FDU Loss Could Hurt Robert Morris

Big Call: FDU Loss Could Hurt Robert Morris

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Following Robert Morris’ 72-71 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday, Andy Toole was undoubtedly frustrated about the no-call with 1.2 seconds left that cost the Colonials a chance to win or – at the very least – force overtime. A foul would have sent Josh Williams, the team’s best free throw shooter this season (74%), to the line for a 1-and-1. With two makes, the Colonials likely emerge victorious from a game that never should’ve been that close to begin with considering Fairleigh Dickinson’s 7-16 overall record and 5-7 mark in Northeast Conference play.

Yes, FDU is the defending NEC champs, and fields a lineup with Jahlil Jenkins, Kaleb Bishop a few others who have played in big-time games before. But, in reality, the Knights are a shell of the team they were last year, and Robert Morris, entering the contest on a six-game win-streak, was playing its best basketball of the season. Plus, on top of it all, the Colonials were at home. With a critical four-game stretch looming on the horizon that will conclude the regular season, which includes two matchups against rival Saint Francis – a team directly behind Robert Morris for first place in the NEC tournament standings – the Colonials really couldn’t afford to botch a game like this.

Instead, the officials botched it for them.

“I thought it was a complete joke,”  Toole told me after the game.

And he wasn’t wrong. Take a look for yourself:

“(It was) a blown call,” Toole quipped. “What else would you say? That’s end-game 101. Under two seconds, every team in the country does that. I told the two officials to watch the foul. The third guy I couldn’t get to. And (Bishop) absolutely blew up Josh Williams. If that happens at any other point in time on any other possession anywhere on the court offensively or defensively, it’s a foul every time. Every time.

“So I’m not sure how it can’t be a foul with 1.2 seconds left on the clock in front of the whole world. Like, the ball is right there. You can’t miss that call. If you’re a Division I official, you can’t miss that call. But unfortunately he did.”

The play was specifically designed for Williams to draw the foul before the inbounder would even needed to heave cross-court pass and say a prayer. Bishop crashed into Williams like a mack truck, who hit the floor with a loud thud heard all the way from media row. Toole instantly knew it was a foul. All of the beat reporters instantly knew it was a foul. Chris Shovlin, RMU’s Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer, instantly knew it was a foul. Even Romo, the RMU mascot, instantly knew it was a foul. In fact, all 1,794 spectators in attendance at the UPMC Events Center probably agreed, as well.

Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda admitted it, too.

“The play was supposed for (Williams) to get run over. It’s what you do,” said Toole. “If you watch late-game college basketball across the country, that’s the No. 1 job of the assistant coach to yell to the guy guarding the inbounder, ‘Don’t foul!’

“Greg Herenda says to me on the sideline, ‘I didn’t go over that with my guys. Complete foul.’ That’s where it’s so frustrating. If the opposing coach is saying it’s a foul, and the refs don’t know it’s a foul, that’s a major problem coming down the stretch.” 

By the way, Robert Morris players weren’t made available to the media after the game, so we didn’t get to hear any of their perspectives on the situation. But that wasn’t the only questionable call of the afternoon. Earlier in the second half, AJ Bramah received a technical foul for taunting following an and-1 layup. Except he didn’t appear to be taunting anyone. He was reportedly shouting to one of his friends in the crowd.

 

“I didn’t really see that either,” Toole said of the technical. “It seemed like everybody seemed to be in a mass of people. And again, that leads directly to points. You get two points there, and everybody wants to be letter of the law on the technical foul. Right? He said something to him, got to bang him with a technical or else you get a bad rating by the ref evaluation. But then you just let a guy get run over?”

Fairleigh Dickinson hit both free throws from the tech – two points that served as a deciding factor in the game’s result. Again, though, it should have never got to that point. You can’t control poor officiating, but you can control your energy and urgency on the court. The Colonials didn’t have much of either, and were a step slow on most of their defensive rotations. While shooting 44 percent from the floor as a team, they led by as much as nine in the second half before the Knights scored 16 points in the final four minutes to win it.

A harsh reality: one Robert Morris rebound off Jenkins’ missed layup with 1.2 seconds left would have prevented that.

“I think someone’s got to go get that ball,” said Toole. “No one’s giving you anything. You’ve got to go get it. We force the first miss, someone’s got to go make a man’s play and grab that thing with two hands, and then we’re not even sitting here talking about that stuff.” 

Sure, it’s only one game, but a loss like this can wreak havoc later on in the season. NEC tournament seedings are often decided by razor-thin margins, with a game or two making the difference between who receives home court advantage in the semifinal, quarterfinal and championship games. If Robert Morris doesn’t take care of business over the next two weeks, it could lose out on an opportunity to play host for the playoff tournament’s entirety – making their path to an NCAA tournament appearance all that much more difficult.

“It’s not like we all go to Madison Square Garden,” Toole said. “It’s not like we all go to the United Center and we get to trade uniforms. No, this is home court advantage. People are trying to win a championship so they can host games in the NEC tournament. So for guys to miss calls like that is just inexcusable. That can have a direct impact on where people go late in the season. …You can’t miss that one right in front of you like that.” 

Over the course of a long season, great teams occasionally end up stealing games they had no business winning. It’s resiliency in its purest form.  Saturday’s game was a prime candidate for that … until the Colonials, and the refs, blew it.

Here’s Toole’s full response from the post-game presser:

 

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