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February 9, 2013Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
There have been wins this year where Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has bemoaned his team's inability to have a complete game.
Saturday night against Wagner, it nearly cost RMU. Robert Morris led by as much as 21 against the Seahawks, but the Colonials needed overtime to hold off Wagner 83-78.
"So, wow, would probably be the first reaction. I don't think we could have played any better in the first half and don't think we could have played any worse in the second," Toole said. "The thing I'm proud of is we figured out a way to win the game, and that's the most important thing."
Russell Johnson and Lucky Jones scored 21 points each and Mike McFadden and Velton Jones both returned to the lineup for Robert Morris. The win improved Robert Morris to 17-0 when it holds a halftime lead, but they needed every second of the second half and overtime to hold onto that flawless mark.
For the first 20 minutes, Robert Morris could do no wrong. The Colonials shot 58.3 percent from the floor, had just six turnovers, and forced Wagner into 11 turnovers. It meant a 42-27 lead and a Wagner team back on its heels. It also meant that Wagner had nothing to lose in the second half. The Seahawks ramped up their full-court press, and within a few minutes, Robert Morris was a mess.
"They don't usually always press, but when you're down 15 at the half and you're trying to turn the game into chaos, you fly around," Toole said. "They were gambling and doing all sorts of crazy stuff because, if they don't get it, what happens? They're still down 15."
Wagner's ability to hound RMU on inbounds passes was amplified by the absence of Anthony Myers-Pate, who sat out while feeling the effects of a concussion suffered on Wednesday. Though Velton Jones played 30 minutes, Myers-Pate's absence meant that the Colonials had to handle the press with either Coron Williams or Karvel Anderson directing traffic.
"I didn't do my best tonight, trying to take over and get past the press," Williams said. "I bet you for everyone else it was real nerve wracking with me with the ball, but I'm going to get better."
The best recipe to break pressure is with fastbreak shots, and Toole said the passes that lead to those types of shots were missing when Jones was on the bench.
"Where you can attack it and get a good shot, sometimes they don't always see that where Velton and Ant can see that," Toole said. "They did a fine job of moving the ball from point A to point B, but you miss some of the things that are outside of that tunnel vision."
It took time for Wagner to whittle away at Robert Morris. The Colonials led 62-48 with 7:49 to go, but that's when Wagner finally made a move. It was down to five with 3:37 to go thanks to a couple RMU fouls and turnovers, and Wagner tied it for the first time since the start of the game on a lay-up by Kenneth Ortiz with six seconds left. Johnson's 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out, setting up overtime.
"Maybe we should have done a refresher on it yesterday," Toole said of Wagner's press. "But I don't know if we thought we were going to be up 21 points with 2:15 to go in the first half and then the game would turn into chaos."
Because of Robert Morris' problems with inbound plays, Toole drew up a play with three seconds left in overtime that required Johnson to throw a long pass to Lucky Jones.
"I've just got a good arm on me, man," Johnson said. "I can play multiple sports. I choose to play basketball, stick with one."
The play worked. Johnson heaved a pass to the opposite 3-point line, where Jones went up to haul in the basketball. He was fouled on the way down and knocked down two free throws. Toole said even if Jones had just gotten a hand on it before the ball went out of bounds, it would have been a success. Then Wagner would have had to go the majority of the court with just a couple seconds left and no timeouts.
"If they make a three-quarter court shot, we don't deserve to win the game anyway," Toole said.
Those free throws came after Toole made another crucial decision. With Robert Morris up 81-78 after two Anderson free throws with 12 seconds left, Toole chose to have Anderson foul Jonathon Williams with three seconds left instead of letting Wagner get a look at a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
"Only one thing has to go right for them to make a three," Toole said. "If you're going to foul, about five or six things have to go right for them to tie the game or win the game. You make the first, miss the second, rebound the ball, put it back in - those are a lot of things that have to go in their favor in order for you to not have success."
Williams made the first, intentionally missed the second. Mike McFadden got the rebound, but Wagner was whistled for a lane violation, setting up the final long toss to Jones.
The win was crucial for the Colonials. Not only does it push Wagner two games behind second-place RMU and allow Robert Morris to keep pace with league-leader Bryant, who will play Sunday against Sacred Heart, but it also gives RMU a win with four road games in its final six contests.
"I think it would have been a devastating loss for us had we not been able to hold on," Toole said. "I think we're fortunate to be 9-3. I think we're moving in the right direction. But we need to make sure on Monday we come in with a good practice, because it doesn't get any easier."
Technical Fouls: M. Moody
Officials: Brandon Cruz, Doug Aprahamian, Rod Mrakovich
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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