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November 19, 2011

Game Day: RMU at Penn

After two games against physical, like-minded teams in Rider and St. Peter's, Robert Morris gets a different test against Penn on Saturday.

While much of the attention has surrounded Andrew Toole's return to play his alma mater, Robert Morris is 2-0 and facing a different team than they've seen the past two games and one that they really don't see a whole lot in general.

Jerome Allen has Penn playing hard, and the Quakers have been led by senior Zack Rosen - "He's been killing it," Toole said. Rosen's had success because Penn moves the ball so quickly, moves so fluidly, that the pace in their half-court set is often more mentally intense than physically demanding.

"They test your mental focus," Toole said. "Every time you try to relax, every time you try to take a break, every time you try to cut a corner, they try and take advantage of that."

Game 3: Penn Quakers (IVY)
WHEN: Nov. 19, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: The Palestra, Philadelphia, Pa.
TV: None
HISTORY AGAINST PENN: Inaugural meeting
REALTIMERPI.com RANKINGS: Penn 177, Robert Morris 189
KENPOM RANKINGS: Penn 194, Robert Morris 79
PENN'S COACHING STAFF: Head coach - Jerome Allen (3rd year). Assistants - Dan Leibovitz, Mike Martin, Rudy Wise
ST. PETER'S PROJECTED STARTERS: C Fran Dougherty (6'8, 225, So.) 8.7 ppg/5.7 rpg; F Rob Belcore (6'6, 225, Sr.) 4 ppg/3 rpg; G Tyler Bernardini (6'6, 210, Sr.) 10.7 ppg/5.7 rpg; G Miles Cartwright (6'3, 175, So.) 13 ppg/4.7 rpg; G Zack Rosen (6'1, 170, Sr.) 24 ppg/5 rpg
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Lijah Thompson (6'7, 200, Jr.) 6.5 ppg/1 rpg; F Lawrence Bridges (6'5, 225, Sr.) 3 ppg/3 rpg; F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.) 7 ppg/3 rpg; G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RSo.) 20.5 ppg/2.5 rpg; G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RJr.) 14.5 ppg/6 apg

Rider and St. Peter's were more physical, almost similar to Robert Morris' style of play. Penn plays man-to-man defense, but it's their motion offense complete with screens and movement that has Toole focused on his team's mental sharpness.

"It's just high energy, changing side of the floor," Toole said. "They have shooters, they have spacing, they do a lot of good things that if you are not locked in and focused and alert, they'll try to take advantage of you."

That mental focus has been an early challenge for Toole and Robert Morris. Toole likes the effort he's seen, praised the leadership of his veterans, and has seen some good things out of his team in two games. But the mental approach isn't always there, and Toole rammed that into Robert Morris' heads in practice on Thursday.

As much as he's harped on focus and hyper-vigilance in the preparation for Penn, Toole also knows he's not alone.

"I don't think there's a coach in the country, especially with the young guys, that's happy with the way they focus every day. The guys have never been through any of this," he said. "It's what we have to work on. It's also what we have to guard against because you've won two games and now all of a sudden you start think you're a really good team."

The good news is that the Colonials have established an early pattern of starting off well, and then showcased an ability to adjust at halftime. While Robert Morris had 20-point lead at halftime against Rider, they were able to do a few things different against the Broncs in the second half that didn't work in the first half. That allowed them to cruise to the 26 point victory.

And against St. Peter's, Robert Morris took a two point halftime margin and turned it into an easy win.

"I think at halftime we've done a good job of identifying a few things teams are trying to do and have been able to relay it to our guys and then we've gone out on the floor and executed it," Toole said. "Hopefully it's something that continues, because obviously a lot of games are won coming down the stretch."

Robert Morris will need to be sharp against Penn and in the next few games. The Colonials are ramping up their schedule, with James Madison, La Salle, and Pitt their next three games. His connections to the Hoop Group and Philadelphia were a major part of having Robert Morris back in the Hoop Group Classic, but the tournament also appealed to Toole with the level of competition.

"Some of these tournaments you see on TV, you're going and playing three high-major teams. Well that doesn't really help you," Toole said. "Now when you're playing other mid-majors and teams that will test you at times, but also give you a chance to go in and compete with, that's what makes it really attractive."

And if Toole and the Colonials can get a couple nice wins out of the deal, he may ask for a permanent spot in the tournament.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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