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February 14, 2013

Game Day: RMU at Quinnipiac

Just six games remain in the Northeast Conference schedule. Six contests are all that remain for teams to improve playoff positioning, to get healthy in preparation for the NEC Tournament, and to work out any lasting kinks prior to the final push for the league's lone NCAA Tournament bid.

For Robert Morris seniors like Velton Jones and Russell Johnson, the final six games means the end is near. Their careers are coming to an end, and there's little doubt that will be on their minds.

Game 26: Quinnipiac
WHEN: February 14, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Connecticut
TV/RADIO: SNY-TV, NECFrontRow.com, and WPIT 730 AM/WPITAM.com (RMU Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Quinnipiac 208, Robert Morris 136
KENPOM RANKINGS: Quinnipiac 223, Robert Morris 163
PROJECTED QUINNIPIAC STARTERS: F Ike Azotam (6'7, 235, Jr.), F Jamee Jackson (6'7, 230, Sr.), G Zaid Hearst (6'4, 213, So.), G Evan Conti (6'3, 200, So.), G Dave Johnson (5'10, 155, Sr.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Jr.), F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), F Lucky Jones (6'6, 205, So.), G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RJr.), G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RSr.)

"It should be," head coach Andy Toole said. "You would hope it would be in the back of everyone's minds as soon as they step foot on campus, but that's not happening. But once you become an upperclassmen, when you become a junior or senior, that has to be at the forefront."

Though the end may be near, Toole said Robert Morris can't afford to alter its approach. Some coaches may use this opportunity to remind their players that only six games remain, that now is the time to strap up and do whatever it takes to win. Not Toole. After all, he's demanding that effort from the start. And he's not about to stray from a formula that's helped Robert Morris go 9-1 over its last ten games: Take this day-by-day and don't dare look ahead.

"It's still got to be day-to-day. We're not capable of functioning on a long-term basis," Toole said. "That's how we have to continue to keep the mindset. They understand what's coming down the road."

This six game stretch won't be without obstacles. The first came this weekend, though it left Robert Morris unscathed. Two games were cancelled because of a huge winter storm that dumped feet of snow on the Northeast. Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut State, Sacred Heart, and Bryant all haven't played since last Thursday. Quinnipiac and Central Connecticut State had their Saturday game pushed to February 25, and the same happened for Bryant and Sacred Heart. It means those four teams, including the league leading Bryant Bulldogs, wrap up the season with five games in ten days.

"It definitely can have an effect on some of the teams involved. I think everyone understands how important each and every game is," Toole said. "I don't know if it'll have too much of an effect, but anything that can break your routine sometimes can throw you off the slightest bit."

Robert Morris had its own minor hiccup Monday when a power outage across campus cancelled practice. Toole took the team to watch film, and instead of hitting the court afterward, they went bowling.

"It was nice to kind of get away and do some things together as a team without having to be on the floor," Toole said. "It's definitely something well deserved and something can definitely refocus you and refresh you a little bit."

Toole wants a fresh and focused team for these final six games partially because they're all return games. Robert Morris played all six opponents in January, including an 87-75 win over Thursday's opponent, Quinnipiac.

"Everyone makes adjustments going into that second game, try and figure out what adjustments they might make and try to really analyze your original game to see where you had success," Toole said. "Just having some plan Bs and Plan Cs is one of the hardest things from a game-planning standpoint."

Robert Morris won the last time despite allowing Quinnipiac to shoot 57 percent from the field. Robert Morris made 11-of-19 3-pointers, forced 17 turnovers, and had just eight miscues of their own. The likelihood of a repeat performance is minimal. Instead, RMU will have to showcase that it has indeed learned how to play defense again, and that it's capable of adjusting to whatever new wrinkles Quinnipiac throws out onto the court.

"You have to believe your guys are going to be ready," Toole said.

After all, that's what this time of year is all about.

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

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