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February 2, 2012

Wagner teaches RMU a defensive lesson

Losses like this one don't get any sugar coating from the head coach.

""Wow, we stunk, huh? It was awful. Bad is an understatement. We stunk," head coach Andy Toole said on his post-game radio show.

Robert Morris' struggles continued Thursday night, as they scored just four points in the first ten minutes en route to an 80-69 loss to Wagner. Robert Morris never led, trailed by double digits throughout the game, and only briefly cut the deficit to a couple of possessions near the end of the game.

The loss booted Robert Morris from the top four of the Northeast Conference, as the Colonials dropped into a fourth place tie with Central Connecticut State. The Blue Devils currently own the tiebreaker over RMU, although the two play on February 18.

"We absolutely stunk. I am so disappointed in the way we came out," Toole said.

The night started with good news for Robert Morris, as Russell Johnson made his return after missing the last five games with a thumb injury. His thumb was wrapped, but he played 15 minutes until another injury cropped up. Johnson got caught in the legs of a Wagner player and injured his ankle; his status will be reevaluated tomorrow. He did not return.

Johnson's return could have been a boost, and Toole also looked for a different spark by benching Lawrence Bridges in favor of Lijah Thompson. But Wagner grabbed an 11-2 lead, resulting in Toole throwing a whole new group out on the floor.

"I wouldn't say I was happy with them," Toole said. "But at the same time I knew it was going to be an intense game and I wanted to get everyone a chance to go out their and get their feet wet and feel what it was going to be like in the game."

It didn't help. Though Brandon Herman scored Robert Morris' first four points, those were the only buckets RMU had in the first ten minutes of the game. Wagner built a 14-4 lead and led 44-30 at the half.

"I almost thought that coming off of what happened Saturday, I would have to be calming these guys down because they'd be so amped up," Toole said. "And we still come out with a lack of energy that is beyond me, that I don't understand."

Wagner shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half and 16-of-18 from the free throw line and dominated RMU in every statistical category. Robert Morris ended up outscoring the Seahawks 39-36 in the second half, but it ended up being far too much of a deficit to overcome. Wagner had a double-digit lead the entire half until Robert Morris cut it to 71-66 with 1:59 to go.

The Seahawks knocked down free throws down the stretch, Robert Morris had a couple empty possessions, and time ran out. Herman led RMU with 11 points, tying his career high.

"He played great. He gave us a lift off the bench and that's why he got some more minutes," Toole said.

Coron Williams fouled out in just 20 minutes, was 2-of-6 for eight points, and once again was never in the offensive flow. Velton Jones was 2-of-15 for nine points and had just two assists.

"You go into games like this expecting to count on certain individuals on the roster and in your locker room, and when those individuals are non-factors, it makes it really difficult to be successful," Toole said. "Coron Williams was an absolute non-factor tonight. I love C. He plays hard and he works hard, but this is a game where he's gotta bring something for us in order to have a chance."

In a game where Robert Morris needed its leading scorers and veteran players to step up, they didn't. Meanwhile, Wagner guard Latif Rivers scored 28 points - 17 in the first half - as the Seahawks grabbed a significant advantage over Robert Morris in the standings.

Wagner finished the game just a shot shy of 50 percent from the field, knocked down 34-of-40 free throws, and held a nine rebound edge on the glass, leaving Toole understandably baffled at his team's direction.

"I don't know what it is, but this team has stopped defending, and I have to figure out how to get it back," Toole said. "Sixty-nine points, that's what we score; 42 percent from the field, that's who we are. We just stopped defending. I don't understand where it went. I'm at a loss right now."

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

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