After a mixed-up non-conference schedule, Robert Morris made its Horizon League debut with emphasis on Saturday night, shooting 71% from the floor in the second half to race away from Purdue Fort Wayne, 102-88 in the Colonials’ first conference action in their new home.
RMU played three non-conference games around a pair of COVID-19-related shutdowns, the latter two a hastily arranged weekend series against Bowling Green and Marshall that saw the team fall to 1-2 on the season.
The Colonials were finally able to have a normal week of practice leading up to the first of two against the Mastodons at Hilliard Gates Sports Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and even though the ‘Dons had already played two conference games, RMU head coach Andy Toole thought the more-normal prep period was the difference-maker for the Colonials.
“The key itself was having practices, being able to try and build some rhythm back and remind them about the things that are important when it comes to winning games,” Toole said to Pittsburgh Sports Now after the win. “We still have a long way to go, but there was great fight in our guys tonight. Obviously we made a ton of shots tonight which always makes things look a lot better. I’m glad we were able to get the win and I’m glad we were able to keep fighting and figure some stuff out.”
RMU (2-2, 1-0 Horizon) was led by senior forward AJ Bramah, who showcased his range and scored a career-high 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting and also grabbed eight rebounds. Bramah was finding success in his deep two-point shots, consistently making from the women’s three-point line.
Freshman guard Kam Ferris got the start and scored a career high 17 points on a perfect six-of-six shooting from the field which included all five of his three-point shot attempts. He did this in 20 minutes before fouling out of the game as part of his first career start.
Farris missed the team’s previous two games and had scored three points versus Point Park in the season opener. His perfect shooting performance makes him the third RMU player ever to accomplish that feat on the road, joining Tony Lee (2004-08) and Jimmy Langhurst (2006-10). Farris also is the fourth RMU player to shoot a perfect mark from 3-point range, and first since Coron Williams (Feb. 9, 2011)
Toole made the decision to start Farris based on his practice effort and habits improving in addition to meshing well with the rest of the starters.
“Kam made some big shots and had opportunities,” said Toole. “We felt like we wanted to give that a look and see what would develop. I thought it was certainly a really positive group on the court for us for the majority of the night they played together.”
Kahliel Spear replaced Charles Bain in the starting five as the latter suffered a calf strain against Marshall. Spear scored 13 points in Friday night’s contest.
Spear appeared to be more comfortable as the game continued. He continues to adjust to be able to play because of the NCAA allowing all transfers to immediately become eligible. Toole believes that as Spear continues to grow, that he will be able to bring more to the table.
“Whether we all want to pretend or not, there’s a certain level of urgency that occurs when you’re going to be in the games,” he said. “He’s still playing a little bit of catch up with his conditioning and understanding all of the different things we have going on. I thought he made some important plays for us late. He had a great rebound on a free-situation where he was able to get a three-point play for AJ. He communicates well and has activity on the defensive side.”
Jon Williams again was steady for Robert Morris and scored 17 points while also contributing on the stats sheet with nine assists. Dante Treacy also recorded 10 points and nine assists. This means that Treacy and Williams combined for 18 assists against three turnovers.
This effort was exactly what Toole was looking for from his upperclassmen guard, who both have provided leadership. The performances helped the team get organized and shoot 60% from the field for the game. The pair were unafraid to find the high-percentage shot and call their own number when needed.
This game was the first in which RMU eclipsed 100 points since Nov. 27, 2019 against Geneva and first such effort under Toole against an NCAA D-I opponent.
Purdue Fort Wayne (1-3, 0-3 Horizon League) was led by Jarred Godfrey’s 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. An additional three ‘Dons achieved double figures in Deonte Billups (14), Dylan Carl (12) and Jalon Pipkins (10).
Additionally the ‘Dons had a 46-30 advantage in the paint.
Purdue Fort Wayne got off to a quick start scoring 12 of the game’s opening 15 points as Robert Morris was unable to find its shot in the early going.
In the huddle, Toole challenged the team to find urgency on the defensive end and put forth more of an effort into it.
“We have so far to go on the defensive side it’s scary but we were starting to play at the requisite level of urgency,” said Toole. “That’s first and foremost.”
Down, by six at the first media timeout, RMU tightened up its defense though it still had to overcome allowing second-chance opportunities.
The three-point shot was good to Robert Morris in the first half as it buried seven triples which kept it in the game and one of those trifectas from Cameron Wilbon gave RMU a lead it never surrendered as part of a 25-13 run over eight minutes of play.
At halftime, Robert Morris held a 43-37 advantage. Purdue Fort Wayne scored the opening four points in the second half, before RMU was able to re-establish control of the contest. From that moment, RMU controlled play as the ‘Dons were unable to find consistent answers.
For much of the second half, Robert Morris led by double figures with Purdue Fort Wayne able to cut the lead down to seven points, but the Colonials were consistently able to counter with answers of their own.
These two teams will play again Sunday with a 5 p.m. tip, as all Horizon League contests will be played on consecutive dates.
“You head back to the hotel and prepare for tomorrow, get guys recovered and get their bodies back,” Toole said. “It’s a different feeling sitting in the locker room and then being there again less than 24 hours later ready to play. We have to prepare as best as we can, keep guys focused on the things that are important and make adjustments to try and get another good effort tomorrow.”