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Robert Morris Playing its Best Basketball in Three Years Since Joining Horizon League



Robert Morris basketball won possibly its most impressive game in three years Tuesday night since joining the Horizon League. The Colonials (15-15, 10-9 Horizon League) defended home court for the final time in the regular season, upsetting the Penguins (22-8, 14-5) in dominating fashion 83-64 due in part to a 19-0 second half run and have now win four in a row. 

Youngstown State slotted No. 104 overall in Monday’s updated NET rankings, led the conference standings, and project as a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament entering play, while RMU sat 142 spots behind at No. 246. In what is becoming a local rivalry, the Colonials’ stars shined when it mattered most.

Graduate student Kahliel Spear scored 15 points and added five rebounds, two assists, and four blocks to stuff the stat sheet in 30 minutes of action. Robert Morris shot a ridiculous 20-of-28 (71.4%) from the field in the second half. The Colonials shot 63% overall and 8-of-16 (50%) from three. 

A number of Penguin fans made the short trip to Moon Township to support YSU, but the RMU faithful including a strong student section helped to power the Colonials energy. 

“I just want to say thank you to the student section. They did a good job,” Spear said. “They came out and showed love today and we feed off of that. Whenever your peers come out and support you, it’s an added factor. You want to play well, perform well in front of your classmates and your peers. They gave us an extra push. The atmosphere is one of a kind.”

“Our students came out and made a lot of noise,” head coach Andy Toole said. “They were engaged in the game, and it was awesome to see that.”

RMU has played exceptionally well at home this season as 10 of the Colonials 15 wins have come inside the UPMC Events Center. 

Robert Morris Colonials guard Josh Corbin (32) January 29, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Opposing teams have game planed around three-point shooter Josh Corbin, something the team has been vocal about throughout the season. Whatever Youngstown State drew up to prevent Corbin for getting open looks, it completely backfired. Corbin scored a game-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor including a 5-of-7 mark from three-point land. He also forced two of RMU’s six steals. 

“Josh is one of those guys where if the other team lets up, he’s going to get hot,” Spear said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with, if not the best.”

Spear noted he is well aware of where RMU stands in the conference standings. The Colonials sit in sole possession of 6th place at 10-9, a half-game behind Oakland (10-8) for the final first-round bye in the Horizon League Tournament awarded to the top five seeds. YSU remains in first by half a game, holding off Cleveland State.

RMU is playing its best basketball since joining the Horizon League for the 2020-21 season and is on its longest winning streak since the old NEC days. The Colonials defeated YSU by 19 points and Milwaukee by 20 the game before, crushing two of the conference’s top three teams.

During the 19-0 run between the 17- and 12-minute marks of the second half, the Colonials forced seven turnovers. Spear said he did not realize in the moment the magnitude of the scoring run until after the game.

“That’s insane,” Spear said. “That’s just a testament to our defensive effort… We’re forcing a lot of turnovers and capitalizing in transition.”

Robert Morris outscored the Penguins 51-28 in the second half and held YSU to shooting 4-of-12 (33%) from three. Dwayne Cohill totaled 18 points, six assists, and four turnovers. RMU turned 16 YSU turnovers into 21 points. 

“I thought our activity on the defensive side was really good. We talked about in the first game that Youngstown was able to get wherever they wanted,” Toole said. “I thought our activity in the gap was so much better in the second half. That allowed us to generate deflections and contest some shots. It allowed us to run out and convert offensively.”

The Colonials received 21 points off the bench including 11 from senior Michael Green III – who was celebrated on senior night along with Spear Saturday – and six scored by Chris Ford. Ford has seen limited minutes for Toole this season but stepped up and rose to the occasion Tuesday with Spear in foul trouble. 

“Mike is basically a sixth starter for us,” Toole said. “We trust in his ability to be able to continually play at a high level. Chris Ford gave us maybe the best 15 minutes he’s given us all year long… it felt like he was always around the ball making positive plays.”

RMU’s depth off the bench has created a consistent flow of energy for Spear and others, fixing a previous issue from earlier in the season.

“The bench did a great job. I feel like that’s why we’ve been so good lately. We’re going 9-10 deep and the energy is not dropping off,” Spear said. “Earlier in the year, whether it be putting starters back in or taking starters out, there would be energy drop-off without substitutions. I think we’ve corrected that.”

RMU defeated Youngstown State 77-73 in Youngstown during the first round of the Horizon League Tournament last year after previously defeating the Penguins during the regular season.  Spear scored 19 points in 39 minutes to knock them out of the tourney. 

The victory moves RMU into the No. 6 seed and the final slot without receiving a first-round bye, which could become a reality depending on the outcomes of remaining conference games. RMU would host IUPUI (4-25, 1-17) on Tuesday if the current seedings stay the same. A second-straight tournament matchup with YSU could be waiting in the wings. 

“I thought we were excellent on both sides of the ball,” Toole said.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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