Robert Morris entered 2022 0-3 in conference play carrying over from last season. The Colonials had a chance to turn three losses into three wins to begin 2023 against Cleveland State but failed to produce enough offense to seal the deal.
RMU (7-8, 2-2 Horizon League) hosted the Vikings (8-7, 3-1) on the final day of the current calendar, losing 63-54 at the UPMC Events Center.
For lovers of highly productive offensive outcomes, the first half was not for you.
Cleveland State led at the first three media timeouts of the afternoon, ahead 5-3, 7-5, and 13-9 with under eight minutes remaining in the first half.
RMU did not crack double-digit points until the 7:08 left to play as Matt Mayers followed his own miss before a potential shot-clock violation and finished on the second-chance opportunity.
Andy Toole rotated between a mixture of players including sophomore guard Chris Ford, 6-foot-9 sophomore Trey James – the tallest player on the RMU roster – and freshman TJ Wainwright.
The offensive output steadily increased from its near-dormant pace in the first 10 minutes. Both teams experienced dry spells shooting that resulted in a low-scoring affair.
RMU closed the gap to a 19-18 Vikings advantage at the final media break of the half at 3:51, while keeping within striking distance. The Cleveland State offense struggled to find its footing as well but gained a boost on a three-point play by senior Deshon Parker. Parker ended the first 20 minutes by scoring a team-high 11 points, sparking the Vikings to a 28-20 halftime lead. Cleveland State ended the half on a 9-2 run as Parker scored every point.
The Colonials shot 7-of-25 (28%) and missed all eight three-point shots attempted. RMU also didn’t help its own cause at the free throw mine. Toole’s team entered the day as one of the country’s worst teams at the charity stripe shooting at 64.9%. The Colonials downgraded to 6-of-11 (54.5%) while Cleveland State missed three shots in four attempts.
The Vikings contributed to the overall struggle, making 13-of-33 (39.4%) and making 1-of-6 (16.7%) three-pointers. Rebounding numbers mirrored each other while the few points scored were in isolation situations. Cleveland State totaled three assists to one for RMU.
Turnovers plagued RMU (9-3) while the Vikings dominated the Colonials in steals (7-1). Tristan Enaruna added seven points and three rebounds to guide Cleveland State.
It took a while for some Colonials to find their footing, while others did not entirely on the offensive side. Enoch Cheeks became the only Colonial able to put the ball in the basket, scoring 11 first-half points. Stephaun Walker was kept off the score sheet but rebounded the ball seven times, two on the offensive glass. Kahliel Spear and Josh Corbin combined to shoot 1-of-6 from the field but Spear added two points at the line in 17 minutes. Cheeks and Spear also dealt with foul trouble at two apiece while Deante Johnson picked up his third within the first minute of the second half for Cleveland State.
Fortunate to be down by only eight, Jackson Last connected on a triple to set the tone for a more productive half of play on both sides.
Enaruna drove past Spear in the first two minutes and electrified the Vikings bench with a rim-rocking, highlight-reel dunk to pad the lead. Spear responded and threw down a vicious slam out of a timeout and Cleveland State ahead 34-30.
TJ Wainwright continued to become a solid contributor off the RMU bench, driving inside and scoring close to the basket. The presence of Matt Mayers inside defensively helped to tighten up the paint. The Vikings maintained a 45-40 lead with under 10 minutes remaining. Spear and Cheeks returning to the floor changed RMU’s fortunes at times, but the Vikings continuously responded.
At 7:18 remaining and a timeout on the floor, Cheeks and Spear combined for 28 of RMU’s 44 points. Josh Corbin remained off the box score and Michael Green II contributed one point.
Cleveland State woke up behind the arc and sunk the Colonials’ ship at every opportunity it had to take the wind out of their sails.
Walker found his way into foul trouble nearing the game’s end, netting four, and allowed the Vikings to take advantage at the line. The Vikings led 60-54 with 90 seconds remaining and enough time to put the Colonials away for good.
Robert Morris shot 21-of-50 (42%) overall but threes and free throws paid dividends. The Colonials shot 3-of-16 (18.8%) from three and 9-of-16 (56.3%) at the line. Cleveland State dominated in creating steals (11-1) while Robert Morris gave the game away with 17 total turnovers. The Vikings finished shooting at 43.4% and 4-of-11 (36.4%) from three.
Enaruna torched the Colonials in the second half and scored 18 total points, also recording a game-high three steals. Parker added 14 points and two steals.
Cheeks ended with a game-high 19 points while Spear added 18 as the duo combined for 37 of the 54 points. Walker totaled two points and 10 rebounds in the defeat. Corbin did not score and Green registered two points and five assists.
The team’s only lead was scoring the first basket of the game (2-0). Robert Morris begins 2023 in Youngstown, Ohio on Jan. 5, beginning at 7 p.m.