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January 28, 2012

Flat Robert Morris whipped by St. Francis

This was Andy Toole's worst nightmare. And yet, in many aspects, it was far from surprising.

Robert Morris came out flat and uninspired against St. Francis (N.Y.), struggled to maintain a lead, and ultimately allowed ice cold shooting to dictate the result as the Colonials fell 81-68. The result erased the advantage Robert Morris gained from the feel-good win against league-leader LIU Brooklyn on Thursday and left Toole perplexed.

"Obviously a lot different team than you saw on Thursday night," Toole said. "Same players, same people, but without the focus and the passion, and that's what you get.

Needing the same energy and intensity that held LIU to just three points in the first four minutes on Thursday, Robert Morris sleepwalked through the first five minutes. St. Francis led for the first 14 minutes and Robert Morris didn't get its first lead of the game until Velton Jones' free throws made it 25-24 with just under four minutes to go in the first half.

"When we took the lead, we penetrated and passed and scored wide open lay-ups," Toole said. "Guys were maybe a little sluggish and a little slow, and I don't think the quality of our shots was as good. Because we like to make our lives as difficult as humanly possible we decided to do something harder and shoot on two guys."

Robert Morris led 31-30 at the break, but St. Francis quickly worked on turning that lead around. By the 11:28 mark of the second half, the Terriers had a 44-41 lead, one they never relinquished.

"We didn't do what we were supposed to do offensively. But the real problem is defensively," Toole said. "No communication, no urgency, no jumping to the ball or whatever the case may be."

Shot after shot went up for Robert Morris and either rimmed out, spun halfway down and popped out, or simply clanged off the rim. Robert Morris shot just 32.4 percent from the field, including a wretched 5-of-25 from three-point range (20 percent). Even with extra chances - Robert Morris had 22 more shots than St. Francis - the Colonials couldn't buy a bucket. They had 20 offensive rebounds but just 12 second chance points.

"We didn't make very many lay-ups in the first half," Toole said. "We left probably 8-to-12 points on the board on the first half. For a team that doesn't score great, that's a big missing ingredient."

And on an individual note, the two top scorers for Robert Morris were ice cold. Jones had 21 points and Coron Williams had 15, but it took a combined 10-for-40 performance (including 4-for-20 from beyond the arc) for them to get there. Jones, in particular, seemed to try and force shots up in the hopes of drawing contact, but only grew more frustrated as the whistles stayed silent.

"I don't know if the refs missed too many calls to be honest with you," Toole said. "You can't just plow into people and throw the ball into the air and hope for a foul. You have to go and score it."

It was the exact opposite for St. Francis. They opened the first half shooting 6-of-10 from three and finished at 58.8 percent. Their overall total was 52.2 percent, exactly what one would expect from the most efficient offense in the Northeast Conference.

Now Robert Morris has to regroup before traveling to play Wagner on Thursday and heated rival Mount St. Mary's on Saturday. With the opportunity lost to gain on LIU, Robert Morris now has to avoid falling back even further. The Colonials are currently tied for fourth with Central Connecticut State.

"It's all on me. Because clearly we haven't got the point across and ultimately I'm responsible for everything in the program," Toole said. "I have to figure out how to get it across to them that you have to play 80 minutes in a week as opposed to 40 or 25 or 36 or 44 or whatever we decide is our lucky number."

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

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