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November 19, 2012Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
It wasn't the planned home opener, but it served as a welcome sight for Robert Morris nonetheless.
The Colonials opened their home slate with a 71-60 win over Bowling Green in the consolation round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
For the second straight game, Robert Morris struggled defensively in the first half. Though the game was tied at 29 at the break, Bowling Green shot 57.1 percent from the floor, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. Instead of leaning on establishing scorers like A'uston Calhoun and Jordan Crawford, Bowling Green spread the ball around as five different players had multiple baskets in the first half.
Head coach Andrew Toole attributed some of that to the drop off in defensive intensity as the Colonials transitioned from their starting five to rotating players in off the bench.
"I felt they had good energy to start the game and I thought we took a dip when we went to the bench. That's got to be something we can't have," Toole said. "Those guys have got to be able to, if not maintain, even raise the energy level."
Robert Morris was able to use its offense to raise that energy level back up late in the first half. Down 26-17, Robert Morris got a jumper from Velton Jones, who then picked Crawford's pocket and fed Anthony Myers-Pate for a fastbreak lay-up. Calhoun was called for an offensive foul, and Mike McFadden slammed home a dunk on an assist from Jones to close the gap to 26-23. After a Bowling Green timeout, Robert Morris forced another turnover and Jones hit a jumper to make it a 1-point game.
Jones finished with 16 points, four assists, and three steals.
"I thought it was him and Ant Myers," Toole said. "I thought those two guys sparked our ability to get back in the game and then their plays gave everyone else energy.
As Robert Morris got back into the game offensively, the defensive performance improved. Though Bowling Green again started the second half strong, Robert Morris trimmed their shooting percentage down to 42.9 percent, including just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc.
"You saw our defensive intensity start to pick up when we started to get those buckets," Toole said. "I thought it was definitely the spark tonight."
Where Jones propelled Robert Morris to a strong finish in the first half, it was Myers-Pate who allowed the Colonials to pull away. Myers-Pate easily had his strongest game of the season, and most of it came in the second half. The junior point guard didn't have an assist in the first half, but picked up five in the second half. Many came during a stretch where Robert Morris took a 43-39 deficit with 11:51 left and turned it into a 59-55 lead six minutes later.
"Coach (Mike) Byrnes pulled me aside and told me to stop thinking so much, just to get back to doing what I do best," Myers-Pate said.
Mired in a woeful start to the season shooting the ball, Myers-Pate junked his jump shot and instead focused on driving the lane. He either finished (scoring 12 points) or dished, and it softened Bowling Green's defense for crucial three-pointers from Coron Williams and Karvel Anderson.
"I think that was what he had today as an option for him," Toole said. "For him it comes down to him playing really hard. When he plays with energy and plays hard, good things happen for him."
Bowling Green sensed the tide shifting. Though that swing happened with 6:55 still left in the game, Bowling Green made just two baskets the rest of the way. In the process, Robert Morris was clinical from the free throw line, driving to the lane to draw fouls and eventually forcing Bowling Green to foul in the backcourt. Robert Morris went 7-of-8 from the line in the final six minutes.
Myers-Pate had 11 points and five assists, McFadden chipped in 12 points and five rebounds, and Williams had 12 points.
Robert Morris will renew its acquaintances with Cleveland State in the finale of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Tuesday at the Sewall Center. The Vikings have beaten RMU the past two years, and though they've overhauled their roster, Toole expects a very familiar look.
"Super aggressive, competitive, physical game," Toole said. "They're going to test you. They're going to guard you all 94 feet. They bring a physicality we probably haven't seen all year."
Technical Fouls: J. Crawford
Officials: Bo Boroski, Paul Szelc, Lionel Butler
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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