Week in review; Colonials showcase toughness, grit while also snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

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Coming into the opening weekend of Horizon League play, Coach Andy Toole and The Robert Morris Colonials were looking to bounce back from the dreadful Thanksgiving weekend performance in Savannah, GA.

The Colonials opened league play on the road Thursday where the faced off with Wright State, who coming into the game 5-2 armed with league freshmen of the week in Brandon Noel. RMU would look to control Noel and hopefully get Khaliel Spear going on both ends of the floor.

RMU, much to its M.O. as of late, came out a little sluggish falling behind 7-0 early, not scoring until 16:49 mark. However, much like they failed to do in previous games, they quickly found their spark with Josh Corbin heating up scoring six of Robert Morris’ first 11 points. RMU would grab its first lead when Jackson Last followed a big three with a lay up to bring put the Colonials ahead 20-10 halfway through the first half.

What was most glaring, was RMU just not allowing the Raiders to do anything in the paint, just swarming to the ball any time it entered. Robert Morris had to feel like it was winning their matchup with Noel, but Tim Finke was giving RMU problems early on and keeping Wright State at arms length. Outside Finke, WSU struggled for a good portion of the first half, shooting 43% in the first half.

What I think all Colonial fans have been waiting to see was the Kahliel Spear we saw Thursday. Now, Spear is not totally known for his outside shooting, but the man just could not be stopped anywhere on floor. It was pretty clear, there was no athlete on either side that could match Spear, the man was everywhere and nothing the Raiders were doing or could do, was going to stop him. Spear saw 17 minutes of action in the first half and would lead all scorers with 15 points on 6/7 shooting.

“Tale of two halves” has been the story of Robert Morris basketball for the last couple years, playing a good 20 followed by a less than ideal 20 or vice versa. the Colonials would come into the second half and quickly push their five-point lead to double digits, not once allowing WSU to ever feel like they were in it. Wright State came into the game averaging 82 points, so what RMU was able to do defensively was incredible, holding them to 59 for the game.

The Colonials, playing quite possibly their best game in their short time in the Horizon League, closed out the Raiders 80-59 and honestly, it didn’t feel that close. This was one of those games where one team simply had “the guy” and the other team did not, and finally that “guy” was Spear.

RMU now had a golden opportunity here to start conference play 2-0 for the first time since they were members of the Northeast Conference, all the Colonials would have to do is handle the Northern Kentucky Norse. RMU would need to continue the tough, gritty defense but make sure to get Spear and Corbin going early.

Robert Morris would open the game not as hot offensively as the previous game, but they seemed to have a good flow to it, with Matt Mayers pacing RMU in the first half scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Trevon Faulkner for the Norse would lead all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 10 points in 12 minutes.

The Colonials would still find their groove from beyond the arch, shooting nearly 50% from three, but still would find themselves behind the eight ball. RMU still turned it over far too often, 16 to be exact with one coming at the bitter end, which will be mentioned in a little.

The most eye popping stat in a close game like this one is usually turnovers, points off turnovers and the ever frustrating free throw shooting. Toole teams are typically very detailed defensively and pretty consistent from the free throw line, hence the word “typically.”

For whatever reason, Robert Morris was dreadful from the charity stripe Saturday, making only eight of its 16 attempts. Now, in a game that’s decided by four points and you leave eight on the court at the free throw line, that will make any coach lose what little hair or calmness they have left.

I mention that because, RMU had the ball, down 2 with around 20 seconds or so left and yet again, let the game slip through their finger tips. The Colonials would, to the thought of Toole, draw a foul at the top of the key with a bout 13 seconds left, but there was no call. I think that whole sequence threw them off a little bit, and they would turn in over right under the basket. Toole, who is a very emotional/animated coach, totally out of character though, draws a technical foul with just ticks remaining. Sure, you can’t get a technical in situations like that, but honestly, I am not sure I blame him.

Poor shooting followed by bad turnovers, some questionable calls all seemed to boil over and Toole just let out “that word,” which you can’t do. Now, it is not at all the reason they lost this game 60-56, even though the Norse missed both on the personal foul shots. To me, this game still showed some improvement from Robert Morris, showed they can compete in this league consistently which I think some were starting to doubt after their first couple seasons in the Horizon League.

Toole picked a very bad time for an outburst and a technical, but to me it showed he has his players back and to somewhat a younger team, that’s important. Now, let’s see if this latest late game meltdown spurns the Colonials into a negative tailspin or brings upon some sunshine to the season.

Knowing Toole for somewhere around 15 years and knowing the coach and person he is, I am pushing my chips to the middle right now; all in on Robert Morris from this point on, who would not fight for a coach like that?

The Colonials will now head to Central Michigan on Wednesday before heading back to the UPMC Events Center Saturday to face off against the Thundering Herd of Marshall.

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