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February 23, 2013

Game Day: FDU at Robert Morris

For as complicated as Robert Morris' defensive approach can be, the offense is relatively simple. While the Colonials focus on heavy switching and communication in their set man-to-man defense, something that requires sharp attention to details, the offense is all about simplicity.

That simplicity, coupled with a slow return to their defensive standard, has Robert Morris atop the Northeast Conference with three games remaining.

Game 29: Fairleigh Dickinson
WHEN: February 23, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Charles L. Sewall center
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Fairleigh Dickinson 300, Robert Morris 120
KENPOM RANKINGS: Fairleigh Dickinson 333, Robert Morris 161
PROJECTED FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON STARTERS: F Kinu Rochford (6'6, 235, Sr.), F Mathias Seilund (6'7, 205, Jr.), G Melquan Bolding (6'3, 195, Sr.), G Mustafaa Jones (6'3, 180, So.), G Sidney Sanders (5'11, 175, Jr.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C 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.)

Robert Morris is first in the NEC in scoring margin, the telltale stat that shows how one-dimensional a team. Teams that are extremely potent on offense but perhaps a bit weak defensively may have impressive numbers but not a wide split in scoring margin. Robert Morris averages 72.5 points per game in NEC play, and it gives up a league-low 66.1 points per game.

In the process, Robert Morris enters its final home game of the year shooting a league-high 41.6 percent from 3-point range. The 3-pointer has become an RMU staple as part of its offense in the recent era, as the Colonials have lived off of the ability for guards such as Tony Lee, Jeremy Chappell, Karon Abraham, Velton Jones and Anthony Myers-Pate to drive the lane to score or kick out to waiting teammates behind the arc.

Thursday night was the perfect example. Monmouth packed the paint, so those players driving the lane couldn't finish off inside. Instead, they kicked the ball out, and Robert Morris rained 3-pointers.

"We've got a lot of options out of what we run, and we just look around it seems like that's what was open most of the time," Russell Johnson said.

Another staple for the Colonials has been the corner-pocket 3-pointer. Again on Thursday night, RMU found the sweet spot, hitting four treys from the same spot on the floor. Like Robert Morris' overall offense, the shot is a byproduct of the simple approach, and it seems to be available on a regular basis and has been for a long time.

"It's their fault if they don't know it," Johnson said.

Simplicity might be the operative word for Robert Morris' season. When they get complicated and complex, things get a little too frenetic. Robert Morris got out of its element back in January and started the season 0-2. They made it difficult for themselves, but have found a way to rebound.

"We like to learn the hard way, because we're stubborn," head coach Andy Toole said. "Thankfully we have learned, but there's still a lot more to try and accomplish and stay focused on."

Toole put the Colonials on day-to-day contracts, simplifying their concerns and their focus in order to improve. It worked. Only recently have the Colonials started to pick their gaze up and look around, and Toole has even brought that along slowly. Robert Morris will even handle senior night as simply as possible as it tries to keep the focus on winning the NEC regular season championship while honoring Jones, Johnson, and walk-ons Treadwell Lewis and Shane Sweigart.

"We're just going out there and playing another regular game, and we're going to get three more playoff games," Johnson said. "At home."

Simple, right?

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

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