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February 6, 2013

Game Day: St. Francis at Robert Morris

Losses are inevitable in the college basketball season. League losses are even more inevitable. As dominant as some teams have been in the history of the Northeast Conference, recent history hasn't allowed teams to get through the NEC unscathed.

For coaches like Andy Toole, the question then isn't worrying about losses but how a team responds. Robert Morris rattled off a five-game winning streak in December, only to respond with a three-game losing streak, including two losses to start NEC play in early January.

Game 24: St. Francis (Pa.)
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WHEN: February 6, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Charles L. Sewall Center
TV/RADIO: Root Sports TV, and WPIT 730 AM/WPITAM.com (RMU Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: St. Francis (Pa.) 320, Robert Morris 141
KENPOM RANKINGS: St. Francis (Pa.) 331, Robert Morris 162
PROJECTED ST. FRANCIS (PA) STARTERS: F Stephon Mosley (6'6, 212, Fr.), F Earl Brown (6'6, 206, Fr.), G Ollie Jackson (6'3, 163, So.), G Anthony Ervin (6'3, 181, Sr.), G Stephon Whyatt (6'1, 155, So.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Jr.), F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), F Lucky Jones G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RJr.), G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RSr.)

RMU finally responded with a 6-game winning streak, only to drop the first game of the Brooklyn swing last Thursday. As LIU Brooklyn loomed, Toole's concern centered on making sure Robert Morris had a better response to a loss than they did the last time. It wasn't necessarily tied into a result so much as it was a mentality.

"I was more concerned about the way we were going to respond and compete. I thought we got out-toughed and out-coached at St. Francis," Toole said. "I didn't do a very good job of preparing our guys for what they were going to face on the offensive end of the floor, and that was my mistake."

Toole must have prepped Robert Morris well for LIU, because the Colonials held LIU under 60 points - unthinkable in the recent era for the Blackbirds - and responded the way the Toole needed them to.

"If you have guys who are competing the way they're supposed to, then you can adjust and make the necessary changes," Toole said.

One of the adjustments Robert Morris used in the 60-57 win was a heavy reliance on the 2-3 zone. Though it wasn't perfect, the zone was enough of a shake-up from Robert Morris' traditional man-to-man defense that it had an impact on LIU's offense. It wasn't the first time that Robert Morris has used the zone to success, but it was definitely the largest stage.

"I think it's sometimes based on opponent and sometimes based on personnel," Toole said. "I think it's a game-by-game thing. I don't think it's anything you can necessarily read into. I don't think we're better in the 2-3 zone than we are in man-to-man. It's going to be important for us to figure out how we can get stops any way we can."

Crafty game-plan elements like relying on the zone for a stretch will be necessary in the final eight games for Robert Morris. Nothing is remotely close to being decided, and outside of Saturday's game against Wagner, Robert Morris will be seeing opponents for the second time this year. That begins Thursday night with Robert Morris' second look at St. Francis (Pa.).

"I think this late in the year, it's a little bit easier because you only have eight games left. You only have 320 minutes left on your schedule, so you really have to take advantage of many as you can," Toole said. "In some aspects, there's some familiarity, which is a good thing. Some of the things they had success against us with, maybe their field goal percentage numbers, are things we need to address and improve."

Though the Red Flash have struggled this year, Toole won't let Robert Morris overlook St. Francis.

"They did something we couldn't do last week, which is win at St. Francis-Brooklyn," Toole said. "There's a lot of things we can point to and make sure our guys are sharp."

Robert Morris is expected to have Velton Jones after his performance through injury Saturday, including the game-winning floater with 12 seconds left.

"They checked him out at the doctor (Monday) just to make sure there wasn't anything more than they thought," Toole said. "He's just extremely sore, which is understandable."

It's all hands on deck and all ideas on the table in the final eight games of the regular season.

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

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