Consistency has been the main focal point of the 2021-22 Robert Morris men’s basketball team but succeeding on that goal has lapsed in many areas throughout the season’s first 30 games.
A lineup that welcomed nine new players and only four holdovers from the previous year experienced mid-season transfers along with ups and downs only associated with an amusement park.
But Tuesday night, Robert Morris could not have asked for a better night of basketball.
The first round of the 2022 Horizon League Tournament commenced in Youngstown, Ohio for the No. 7 seed YSU Penguins and No. 10 RMU Colonials.
RMU entered the Beeghly Center on a two-game losing streak, dropping its final four games. The team’s last road win and last victory overall came in the same venue, upsetting YSU 73-68 on Feb. 13.
Tonight, the ice melted beneath the Penguins’ feet.
Both teams started out well offensively despite very physical half-court defense, but RMU was too much to handle the entire night en route to a 77-73 victory.
Andy Toole earned his 200th victory at Robert Morris as his team won the opening tip and capped off the opening possession with a Kahliel Spear left corner three.
The Penguins trailed RMU 7-4 at the first media timeout and RMU’s Enoch Cheeks in early foul trouble, sitting at two at the only two and a half minutes in.
Spear started the night hot scoring seven points in the first six minutes of play. Matt Mayers made his presence felt inside the point contributing a tip-in inside the paint and maintaining a balanced Colonial attack.
Robert Morris carried a 15-12 advantage into the next break and under 12 remaining in the half. Neither team significantly focused on pushing a fast-break pace offensively. YSU began to falter in the latter parts of the final 10 minutes of the half and came up short on numerous attempts.
A Myles Hunter putback from the right side block tied it at 18 apiece and turned into a 21-21 game when play stopped again at the 7:47 mark.
After the break, RMU was the better team.
RMU took care of the basketball in a back-and-forth game and fought for every lose ball, obtaining second chances and fighting back to a strong decisive lead.
After the under-four timeout and the visitors leading 26-23, RMU controlled the remaining ticks off the clock.
Youngtown State head coach Jerrod Calhoun called timeout with 2:18 to go in the half with the Colonials outplaying the Penguins and advancing the lead to double figures.
Leading 33-23, Robert Morris did the little things needed to grind out a playoff victory greater than YSU.
Robert Morris led 35-26 at halftime. Spear played an astonishing 19:23 of the first 20 minutes of action.
Tevin Olison powered YSU with a team-leading nine points in the first half. Dwayne Cohill chipped in six of his own. The Penguins shot 33.3% over the first 20 minutes including a costly 2-for-11 from behind the three-point arc.
12 points from Spear, to lead all players, put RMU in a great spot to expand the advantage going into the second half. The Colonials turned it over only four times as a team and was 14-for-28 from the floor. Michael Green III (7) and Kam Farris (5) added to the Colonial scoring. The teams tied with 16 rebounds on each side.
Spear continued his strong night and help from a Jaron Williams bucket forced YSU into a timeout trailing 42-26.
YSU and RMU traded timeouts less than a minute later. Brandon Stone with a defender all over him made a great play by grabbing the ball with one hand off a pass and easily scored off the glass. Everything was going right for RMU.
The Colonials outfought YSU for most of the night and built a comfortable 48-33 advantage with 12:44 remaining.
Cheeks rocked the rim with a powerful slam to silence the home crowd and give Bobby Mo an even greater lead.
Both teams remained scoring at a high clip. Knowing they had to fight out of a large whole, the Penguins forced a few plays resulting in turnovers. YSU tried to fight back, but RMU had a response for every made basket.
Robert Morris delivered a 62-42 score thanks to a Matt Mayers wide-open slam dunk to grab the largest lead of the night (20 points) and never let up on either end.
The Colonials played hard and tough and silenced a passionate Penguin crowd with interior play a major difference defensively.
The deficit became insurmountable as RMU never took its foot off the gas. Toole’s team was ahead 62-46 at the final media timeout and the ‘Guins desperately needing points.
Stone finished on a lefty layup on what became the defining play of the night. Four chances for RMU to score thanks to offensive boards including Green III fighting through three defenders to clean up the glass.
But YSU didn’t go away quietly. The Penguins shrunk the deficit to 10 points with RMU up 67-57. They chipped it to 68-62 with 52.2 seconds remaining and Cheeks hitting one of two to follow at the free-throw line. Spear made a major play by snatching a layup attempt and giving RMU a possession back.
Making free throws was critical in the final moments as the Colonials held on and celebrated at midcourt.
Cohill led all scorers for YSU with 25 points. Olison delivered 17 as well as the only other YSU player in double figures. The Penguins shot 37.1% for the game and was 8-for-28 from downtown.
Robert Morris finished with five players in double figures. Spear (19), Cheeks (12), Farris (12) Green III (10), and Mayers (10) all contributed in RMU’s most complete game of the year and fight to play another day.
The Colonials advance to the second round of the Horizon League Tournament Thursday night against an opponent yet to be determined.