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November 19, 2011

Colonials collapse in the Palestra

At every moment the past few days, Andrew Toole preached the importance of staying hyper-vigilant against Penn's offense.

Toole drilled Robert Morris over and over in practice, inundated them with the notion that Penn moved the ball so well that they'll be open before the Colonials could blink. And once they're open, they'll knock down shots.

The Robert Morris coach was proved correct Saturday night, as Penn shot 51 percent from the floor to hold on for a 66-60 win over Robert Morris at the Palestra in Philadelphia.

"Any time a team shoots over 50% from the floor and 50% from three, you're not doing something right defensively," Toole said on his postgame radio show. "It's just disappointing."

Velton Jones led four players in double digits for the Colonials with 16 points, but outside of those four, it was a quiet night for Robert Morris. The bench players provided just five points and five rebounds in 59 minutes of action.

Jones also had seven assists, but he also had three turnovers, five fouls, and a couple other mistakes that were emblematic of the Colonials' struggles.

"He made some plays. I wish he would have made some more plays so we would have come out on top," Toole said. "Hopefully we can break down this film and find out where we made those mistakes and get them corrected."

It started off so well for Robert Morris. The Colonials burst out of the gate to grab a 10-0 lead in the first 2:15, leaving Penn dazed and staggered as Jerome Allen called a timeout.

But that would prove to be Robert Morris' largest lead of the game. Penn slowly whittled away, as Zack Rosen took over. Rosen, averaging 24 points per game, led the Quakers with 19 points and 10 assists, including a 5-of-7 performance from beyond the arc. The Quakers shot 50 percent from trey, hitting 10 of their 20 shots.

That accuracy, coupled with Robert Morris' penchant for poorly timed turnovers, fouls, and questionable shot selection, led to Penn taking their first lead with 5:52 to go in the first half. Penn took the lead for good on a Rob Belcore layup just before the half and never looked back.

Penn led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but Robert Morris trimmed the lead several times by holding Penn to just three field goals in the final 13:13 of the game. That 13:13 mark was when Penn led 49-34. The problem was Robert Morris also missed several opportunities to score and shorten the lead even more, including frequent trips to the foul line. Robert Morris was 13-of-22 from the line, just under 60 percent.

Meanwhile, though Penn wasn't scoring from the field, they were scoring from the line.

"Part of it was their strategy to shrink the game," Toole said. "They were still pretty effective and they made free throws and stuff like that."

Though Toole was understandably upset and disappointed in the loss, especially in the emotional return to the Palestra, there might be a few positives he can take out of it. A Russell Johnson three-pointer cut the deficit to four points with 1:36 to go in the game, as the Colonials rallied.

But Robert Morris couldn't make a few additional shots and Johnson was tagged with two quick, badly timed fouls to help Penn put the game away.

There's also this: Robert Morris played their worst game of the early season and still only lost by six. But that might not be enough for Toole right now.

"I'm going to have to watch the tape a couple times to find those positives, because I'm not sure where they are right now," he said.

Robert Morris returns to the floor Tuesday to take on James Madison in Virginia as the Hoop Group Classic continues.

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

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