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Robert Morris Basketball

5 Takeaways from RMU’s 80-59 Victory to Begin Horizon League Competition

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Robert Morris by far played its best game of the young season Thursday night against Wright State. Entering the night as 12.5-point underdogs, the Colonials trailed 7-0 three minutes into play but never looked back once taking the lead. 

RMU kept its foot on the gas en route to a lopsided victory over a Raiders team projected to finish third in the conference and also received first-place votes. 

Entering year three in the Horizon League, head coach Andy Toole and the Colonials are looking to make a statement that they have arrived and can compete with the conference elite. 

Year Three Filled with Glee?

It’s often said in college athletics that the third year of a head coach’s tenure is the defining season where a breakout must be initiated to jolt the program forward. Leading the Colonials for the 13th straight year, the description does not fit Toole’s criteria but rather that of the conference. 

RMU joined the Horizon League following the 2019-20 season. The Colonials defeated St. Francis in the 2020 NEC Championship game just two days before COVID-19 officially shut down the basketball landscape and the entire world as we know it. RMU was no longer going dancing in March Madness, but rather tiptoeing into a new adventure embarking on the Horizon League. 

The past two seasons have been anything but a warm welcome for Robert Morris. RMU finished 4-15 and 3-12 in Horizon League play during the 2020-21 campaign and slightly improved the following year, ending at 8-24 overall and 5-16 in the conference. A first-round victory against Youngstown State on the road to begin the Horizon League Tournament jolted the program in a positive direction and the return of Kahliel Spear, Enoch Cheeks, Matt Mayers, and Michael Green III has contributed to a more promising start. 

Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships (Or Challenging Road Matchups)

RMU entered the game as double-digit underdogs given little chance to pull out a victory. The Colonials proved everyone wrong and bounced back from a disastrous Hostilo Hoops Community Classic, losing every game last weekend in Savannah, Georgia. RMU’s defensive efforts were critical in the win. 

“It was a great team effort,” Toole said to RMU Athletics postgame. “Wright State is such a talented offensive team, and they showed that early tonight, but I thought once we got into the flow of the game every time they tried to attack us, we slowed the pace down. We were really locked in defensively against a really good offensive team and responded properly because we did it together.”

Wright State shot 41.5% overall and 9-of-23 (39.1%) in the second half. RMU forced 12 turnovers and completely shut down 18-point-a-game scorer Trey Calvin, scoring 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. 

Spear of the Sword

Kahliel Spear played one of his best games in an RMU uniform Thursday night. Spear couldn’t miss most of the game to the tune of a 12-of-15 mark from the floor and two buzzer-beating threes in the first half. He finished with 27 points, five rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in a team-high 36 minutes. 

“Kahliel was really good and why I think he was really good is because he was strong,” Toole said. “He didn’t try and rush. When he got to the basket he was on balance. When he gets to those spots and makes those reads and finishes, he can be tough to stop.” 

In his third season as a Colonial, Spear looks to leave a lasting impact on the program and decided to return for a fifth year to establish RMU basketball as a solid competitor again. His skill set and leadership are critical factors to his representation of the program and possesses immense talent. 

Putting the Pieces Together

Jackson Last had been struggling for Robert Morris since the start of the season. The sophomore transfer guard emerged from the starting lineup again and provided one of his best performances. Last scored five points and added seven rebounds on the defensive glass along with two assists. 

Kevin Martina only played 12 minutes but remained in the starting five over Michael Green III, who’s produced well in a sixth-man role. Martina scored six points and experienced early foul trouble, finishing the game with four. Last and Martina provided Toole and the Colonials valuable minutes on the floor when deployed and allowed some of the attention to be taken away from Spear, Enoch Cheeks, and Josh Corbin on both ends of the floor.

“We need contributions from anybody and everybody,” Toole said after the game to RMU Athletics. “I thought Kevin (Martina) did a nice job tonight. It doesn’t always have to be a basket, either. It’s communication on defense, it’s getting open. Jackson (Last) was another guy that, while at times he was out of position, he came up with some really tough rebounds down the stretch that were really important.”

Kahliel, Cheeks, and Corbin: Three-Headed Monster

Four Colonials scored in double figures to rally RMU to 80 points, the most scored since a 111-56 beatdown of West Virginia Wesleyan on Nov. 16. Spear (27), Corbin (15), Cheeks (12), and Green (11) all contributed in an exemplary way to defeating a well-rounded Wright State club on both ends. 

Spear, Cheeks, and Green, along with Matt Mayers (two points, four rebounds) were the four key holdovers from last year’s squad. Cheeks missed two games during the Hostilo Hoops Community Classic but has seen an uptick in production. After averaging over nine points last year and under five as a freshman. Cheeks’ emergence has resulted in career highs in points (16) and assists (3.7). 

Corbin had been shooting over 50% entering the Wright State game and continued the trend thanks to a 5-for-8 performance from behind the arc. Spear is averaging 14.5 points and a career-high eight rebounds. He has stepped to the free-throw line 46 times already this year, two short of his total during the 2020-21 season in eight fewer games. He is only shooting 23-of-46 (50%) and can improve at the charity stripe but also shows his willingness to attack the basket and the attention defenses are paying to him. Spear followed a 1-for-6 showing against South Alabama by making 1-of-3 Thursday and made over 72% last season.

“The communication was great, the execution was great and that’s what it takes,” Toole said. “We know we have some of the pieces. It’s just a matter of valuing the details.”

Robert Morris faces another top-of-the-conference opponent Saturday in Northern Kentucky, projected to finish tied for first in the Horizon League preseason poll. 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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