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Robert Morris Basketball

Colonials Lock Down Jaguars for First Horizon League Road Win, 66-49

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the first half came to a close in Robert Morris’ 66-49 win over IUPUI, Colonials coach Andy Toole knew exactly where he wanted his team’s focus for the remaining 20 minutes.

The Colonials had let an opportunity for a win at Illinois-Chicago slip away on Thursday because they couldn’t close the door on defense, allowing the Flames to shoot 50% in the second half. With a chance to get that elusive road victory at short-handed IUPUI, Toole challenged the Colonials to lock down on the Jaguars and wear them down in the second half.

Robert Morris responded, starting the second half on a 10-2 run and holding the Jaguars to just 22 points in the final 20 minutes of play. The Jaguars shot just 7-for-27 in the second half, allowing the Colonials to pull away for a 66-49 win over IUPUI on Saturday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, RMU’s first road win of the season in the Horizon League.

“We consistently defended, and obviously, they’re doing everything they can with what they have in very challenging circumstances,” Toole said. “So we looked at it as, ‘Can we continue to guard, guard, guard and hopefully start to wear them down a bit?’ I think we were effective in that.”

The Jaguars dressed just six players, giving the Colonials (6-17, 4-10 Horizon) a golden opportunity to exhaust their hosts. With IUPUI leading scorer B.J. Maxwell (16 points) also in early foul trouble, RMU made sure to work the ball around for open looks, forcing the Jaguars (2-19, 0-10) to overexert themselves chasing the game.

The strategy worked to perfection in the second half. Kahliel Spear scored 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half and Enoch Cheeks added 14, giving RMU an inside-outside combination the Jaguars couldn’t answer.

“We realized that it was going to be a game where we needed to execute, regardless of the other team’s depth,” Spear said. “We honed in on what we had gone over this whole week, and we started to see that pay off in the second half.”

As the second half wore on, the Colonials began to draw out their possessions and wait for the right opportunity to come to them. With the Jaguars needing to conserve their energy, RMU focused on using the shot clock as its ally, draining time for an IUPUI comeback and finding good looks at the same time.

“We tried to get the ball into the paint,” Toole said. “The matchup defense they play is hard because every time you come down, there’s something different going on. But we felt like if we could get the ball into the paint, we’d have some opportunities to score or create a kick-out opportunity for a shot. We had a few of those as we built our lead in the second half.”

The best example came near the final media timeout of the game, with the Colonials protecting a nine-point lead. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Spear found Michael Green, who let the shot clock wind down to three seconds before spotting Cheeks with an open 3-point look in the corner. The junior guard hit nothing but nylon, giving RMU a 12-point cushion that would never again drop below double digits.

“We had a lot of ball reversal and rotation (on that possession), and my teammates found me in the corner with a wide open shot,” Cheeks said. “I have to make that one.”

On the sideline, Toole’s celebratory yell perfectly summed up the Colonials’ possession.

“That was a huge possession,” he said. “Michael Green did a great job getting a late shot clock and creating a driving lane, and then had an awesome pass to Enoch, who was shot ready. To get a make like that at the end of the shot clock to extend the lead and take time off the clock, it’s a perfect scenario.

“We did a lot of really good stuff; I think the ball moved to the right places. When you do the right things, sometimes that ball finds its way of going in the basket.”

The Colonials did enough of the right things to post their best defensive effort of the year and a critical win, as the victory pushed them into a tie with Green Bay for 10th in the league. With three weeks left until the Horizon League tournament starts, RMU still has time to get itself into the top eight and earn a home game to open the event.

All that mattered to a loud Colonials locker room on Saturday, however, was that they’d finally put a road win on the ledger and made it three wins in four games.

“That gives us momentum and confidence,” Spear said. “We’ve had a lot of close road games against good teams in this conference. To finally get over the hump is going to show that we have what it takes to get it done as long as we continue to do the right things. I think it’s more of a confidence builder than anything.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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