It’s that time of year again as college basketball returns to the hardwood, and the work is just beginning.
The Robert Morris men’s basketball team began the 2021-22 season in Orlando, Florida Wednesday night against the University of Central Florida (UCF), falling 69-59 against a tough defensive team.
After only competing in three non-conference games last season, RMU (0-1) took the court with only three players–Khaliel Spear, Kam Farris, and Enoch Cheeks– who played significant minutes during the coronavirus-impacted first year in the Horizon League.
The Colonials found themselves in an early 10 point hole, trailing 14-4 at the first timeout, struggling against a UCF (1-0) press wreaking havoc on a team with no game experience playing together.
Robert Morris chipped into the lead and cut the deficit to four at the next timeout, facing a 20-16 score thanks to better offensive possessions and six early points from grad transfer Ferron Flavors, Jr. The Colonials offense became sloppy once again out of the timeout, but still found ways to put the ball in the bucket.
UCF battled hard in the first half, attacking the basket and actively pursuing the ball on the other end of the floor. The efforts resulted in another double-digit lead for the home Knights with seven minutes remaining in the first half, making it a 12-point advantage 31-19 with 6:46 left in the first half and a timeout on the floor.
Despite breaking the press on most occasions, RMU failed to consistently push the ball when facing two-on-two opportunities. The Colonials also couldn’t finish second-chance points, allowing USC to pad its lead to 37-21 before Andy Toole called time.
The inexperience of playing together was on full display as sloppy offensive possessions reappeared on the other end and became poor defensive challenges.
UCF took a 42-25 lead into halftime as the RMU offense went ice cold, trailing by 17 thanks to shooting just under 28% from the floor and committing eight turnovers. The Colonials outrebounded the Knights 14-4 on the offensive glass and 25-16 overall in the first 20 minutes. Flavors Jr. and Jarron Williams led RMU with six points each while UCF’s Darius Perry totaled a game-high 13 points to begin the night.
Robert Morris played hard on both ends to begin the second half, moving the ball around more consistently and cutting the lead to nine at the under sixteen break. The Colonials forced UCF into bad turnovers and lazy passes to a 46-37 score with 14:39 remaining in the game.
Rasheem Dunn greatly increased his offense to string RMU back. UCF scored only five points into the first six minutes due to increased pressure by RMU and smarter shots on offense. A Perry slam to make it 49-37 looked to be the spark the Knights needed to respond, but RMU’s Michael Green kept the Colonials within breathing room and a 51-41 score with 11:11 left.
Robert Morris never put together a strong fight in the final 10 minutes, collecting numerous scoring droughts and allowing UCF to complete numerous unanswered runs.
The Knights recorded numerous highlight-reel-type dunks that flattened the energy for the visitors. The Colonials dug in and clipped away with an 8-0 run late in the game, but the deficit was too much to handle in Florida.
Robert Morris was dealt a tough test, common for Andy Toole teams out of conference, and with nine new players could not put together consistent opportunities on both ends.
Spear (10), Dunn (12), and Cheeks (12) all reached double figures while Cheeks recorded a double-double with 10 rebounds in the season opener. The Colonials shot less than 33% from the floor and 18% from behind the arc, struggling against a talented USF defense.
RMU limited one of UCF’s best players Brandon Manhan to two points on 1-7 shooting from the field. Perry led all scorers with 18 points.
Robert Morris returns to action Friday night against No. 10 Kentucky at Rupp Arena eight years after upsetting the Wildcats in the 2013 NIT Tournament played at the old Sewall Center.