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February 28, 2013

Game Day: Robert Morris at Bryant

Home games are to be cherished at Robert Morris.

Outside of the standard nine games at home in conference play, Robert Morris played just four non-conference games at home this year. In Andy Toole's three seasons at the helm, Robert Morris hasn't played more than four non-conference games at home.

Yet in that span, Robert Morris is 33-7 at the Sewall Center. The Colonials are just 27-26 on the road.

Game 30: Bryant
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WHEN: February 28, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, Rhode Island
TV/RADIO: NECFrontRow.com (Live Video stream), WPIT 730 AM/WPITAM.com (RMU Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Bryant 131, Robert Morris 126
KENPOM RANKINGS: Bryant 181, Robert Morris 148
PROJECTED BRYANT STARTERS: F Vlad Kondratyev (6'8, 225, Sr.), F Alex Francis (6'6, 205, Jr.), G Dyami Starks (6'2, 195, So.), G Corey Maynard (6'3, 185, Jr.), G Frankie Dobbs (6'3, 185, Sr.)
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.)

Need more proof home court is valuable in the Northeast Conference? Three out of the last four champions have won the title on their home court.

"Everybody in the league, when their building is packed, feeds off that energy and that environment," Toole said. "It makes it that much more difficult to go in and beat teams in their own buildings."

Home court is what's at stake Thursday night against Bryant. Robert Morris will clinch home court throughout the NEC Tournament with a win. A loss ties them with Bryant in the standings and gives the Bulldogs the tiebreaker. Robert Morris would need to beat Central Connecticut State on Saturday and hope Bryant falls to St. Francis (Pa.) to claim the top seed again. Otherwise, RMU would be stuck with No. 2.

So why has the Sewall Center been so good to the Colonials? Being a good team certainly helps. But for a team whose head coach preaches being comfortable in unique situations, a familiar gym erases some of the other issues of game day.

"I just think it's the comforts of home. Being able to be comfortable is important, and I think when you go on the road you put yourself in uncomfortable situations," Toole said. "It makes it that much more difficult.

Difficult was the operative word the last time these two teams met. Bryant didn't care about playing at the Sewall Center, as the Bulldogs poured in 51 second half points in an 84-77 win. What went wrong for RMU defensively?

"Virtually everything, whether it was their ability to get 3s, the ability to score in transition, Alex Francis' ability to wreak havoc in the paint; they did everything," Toole said. "That's what happens when you score 84 points, you make 13 3s, and you have three guys who get 73 of the 84. You're not really taking care of any parts of your business defensively."

The Bryant loss in January was part of an 0-2 start for the Colonials where they lost a bit of their identity as a defensive team. Some would think that revenge would be on their minds a bit, but Toole said that approach usually isn't helpful.

"From a coach perspective, I think the whole revenge thing is a little overplayed," Toole said. "Sometimes, what it does is maybe allow you to prepare a little better because you're a little sharper in your preparation. But once the game starts, no one's thinking about what happened last time. They're thinking about what they need to do this time."

Robert Morris has its identity, both as a defensive team and as the NEC leader. The Colonials have maintained an efficient offense while once again climbing to the top of the NEC in team defense. Robert Morris allows the fewest points per game and fewest points per possession in the league. It's a different mix than when they last played Bryant. Will it offer a different result? That remains to be seen.

"It's going to be a matter of which team is able to execute, stay together, and maybe play a little bit harder than the other, that's going to come out on top," Toole said.

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

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