MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Robert Morris men’s basketball team was on a hot streak that extended from the end of January into the early part of February.
During that stretch, the Colonials won six consecutive conference games and were sitting at 11-2 in the Northeast Conference, with only Merrimack in front of them in the standings. But with the Warriors being ineligible to play in the postseason, Robert Morris seemed to be in the driver’s seat to lock up the No. 1 seed for the NEC tournament.
Then after a heartbreaking home loss to Farleigh Dickinson on a controversial call and a disappointing follow-up game against Saint Francis on the road, all of a sudden, they had dropped two straight games, and things started to look a little different.
Saint Francis (20-8, 13-4 NEC) jumped ahead of Robert Morris (16-14, 12-5) in the conference standings, as they have rallied off eight wins in a row, dating back to Jan. 30. But none of that matters when Saturday afternoon comes around.
The Colonials will get a final crack on Senior Night at the Red Flash on their home court for a chance to snatch back the No. 1 seed in the tournament (RMU beat Merrimack, so they hold the tiebreaker).
Since these two teams’ first meeting (86-71 SFU win) that happened less than ten days ago, when the Colonials “didn’t show up,” according to head coach Andy Toole, Robert Morris has beaten Mount St. Mary’s at home, 66-60, and lost on the road, once again, to Farleigh Dickinson.
But after their win against Mount St. Mary’s, Toole seemed to like the direction things were heading for his club.
“(That’s the) late February conference grind,” Toole said after the game. “That’s a little more like Robert Morris basketball than we’ve seen maybe in the last week or so. Something we really talked about was getting back to our formula (and) being able to defend.”
They rank third in the conference in fewest point allowed (67.4 points per game) and second in rebounding defense (34.2 per game).
The Colonials have been known for their rugged, hard-nosed brand of basketball, throughout Toole’s tenure in Moon. And that style comes into play even more once the games start to mean a little more. That’s been evident for RMU under Toole in his ten seasons because when opponents score between 60-69 points, the Colonials have a 72-39 record. When opponents score 70-79 points, they are just 34-51. But RMU is still going to have to score some points. Robert Morris is 64-37 when they score between 70-79 points.
The Mount St. Mary’s game was about right where Toole likes the pace being played (66-60).
“Tonight, was the kind of game that you’re going to see in conference tournaments,” Toole added. “You have to be able to execute your formula offensively and defensively.”
That formula is going to have to manifest itself more than ever on Saturday. Saint Francis’ offense leads the NEC in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. It should be interesting to see how the different styles go head-to-head the second time around, with a lot more on the line.
“We are starting to jell really well with everybody and everybody’s attitude and mindset, going toward this playoff stretch,” junior Jon Williams said.
The one clear advantage that Robert Morris has going for them is that they will have the home-court advantage. Their seniors will have some added motivation, too, as they will be playing their final regular-season game ever, on their home court.
RMU leading scorer, Josh Williams, will be one of the three names that will be honored at the game against St. Francis. Joining Williams will be starting forward Yannis Mendy and guard Sayveon McEwen.
With the primary goal of making the NCAA tournament, something neither of those three guys has been able to accomplish, winning this game on Saturday will be the first step in having a higher chance of being able to reach that goal. The Colonials’ last NEC title came in 2015.