The Robert Morris men’s basketball program was at the top of its game during the 2019-20 season. A 13-5 Northeast Conference record followed by winning the 2020 NEC Tournament at home inside the brand new UPMC Events Center launched the program into some of its brightest days.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
A trip to the NCAA Tournament canceled, conference shuffling from the NEC to the Horizon League, the departure of players like Josh and John Williams plus AJ Bramah’s sudden transfer shook the program into a state of despair. After letting the good times roll, the Colonials have been on a roll of losing streaks.
Robert Morris finished its Covid-effected 2020-21 campaign 4-15 overall and 3-12 in the Horizon League, finishing 1-9 on the road amongst a sea of canceled games.
A roller coaster of emotions filled the 2021-22 season as RMU found itself in positions to win close games in the final minutes, only to let it slip away by one or two possessions. Robert Morris lost four home games by four or fewer points but won its first-round matchup at Youngstown State 77-73 in the conference tournament.
Here are three questions concerning the Colonials before the first jump ball is thrown in the air.
A fresh roster is nothing new to head coach Andy Toole, welcoming 11 new faces to the Colonials’ 16-member roster for their third stab at the conference. Players including Bramah, Trayden Williams, and Pat Suemnick left before last season while Kam Farris, Brandon Stone, and Justin Winston hit the transfer portal after last year’s struggles. Stone and Winston only played one year of game action with the program before ultimately packing their bags and departing Moon Township.
Players to watch include Winthrop transfer Josh Corbin, who connected on 81 triples and 47 threes during his redshirt-sophomore season in 2020-21. The junior shot over 40% from deep and will bring a three-point presence to a team that recorded a 34% clip behind the arc. Corbin averaged 4.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 20 appearances, five starts, last season, and scored 27 points in RMU’s exhibition game.
“He has such a quick release, and what I think is important is that he brings great competitiveness to our team,” Toole told RMU Athletics after defeating Alliance 88-59 in an exhibition game.
Transfers Kevin Martina (Sam Houston State), Chris Ford (Davidson), and Trey James (Iona) all transferred to RMU following limited usage at their previous schools. James, 6-foot-9, and Martina, 6-foot-7, bring size to a Colonials group in desperate need of help on the glass.
Sharpening the Spear
Graduate forward Kahliel Spear returns to the Colonials for his third season with the team. Spear led RMU in points (14.7) and rebounds (7.7) while also swatting 35 of RMU’s 122 blocked shots, the second-most team blocks in program history.
Spear has been an anchor of stability as the longest-tenured Colonial with guard Enoch Cheeks and a vocal leader on the court. The former Bucknell transfer was named to the 2022-23 All-Horizon League Second Team as voted on by the conference’s coaches. Spear was named to the 2022 All-Horizon League Third Team last season.
He joins returning starters Cheeks, guard Michael Green III, and forward Matt Mayers in his final year of eligibility. Spear has a chance to crack 1,000 career points, entering 181 points shy. He has averaged 12.9 points on 55% shooting and 6.8 rebounds in two years playing for Toole.
Third Times the Charm?
The third year a team is led by a new coaching staff typically signals a ‘make or break’ attitude towards the future. Robert Morris finds itself in a slightly different situation but a similar concept, a third time through the conference and a greater understanding of its opponents.
Rosters are changing more frequently than ever with lacked rules placed on the NCAA transfer portal, making it difficult to identify similarities between teams due to constantly changing personnel. Robert Morris dealt with the pandemic its first year in conference competition – worthy of a wash in criticizing some failures – and lost players mid-season last year to the transfer portal.
Toole is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball and two years ago was rated the No. 7 best college coach under 40. Signed through the 2025-26 season, Toole receives another chance to work with talented players like Spear, Cheeks, Green III, and Mayers along with Corbin and the possible emergence of another young transfer or freshman to surprise the Horizon League landscape and close out tight finishes. An uptick in scoring more than 70 points per game and limiting turnovers – compiling an overwhelming 14.3 per night – will bring the team into position to fight for a higher seed.
Robert Morris is projected to finish eighth in the Horizon League. Purdue Fort Wayne and Northern Kentucky are tied for first in the #HLMBB Poll Results voted on by the coaches, sports information directors, and select media. Reigning tournament champion Wright State is slotted third.
The Colonials open the season on the road in Columbus, Ohio facing Ohio State. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.