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December 14, 2013

RMU shuts down Duquesne to snap skid

Andrew Toole might have found something with his freshly installed 2-3 zone.

Desperate to boost his sagging defense, Toole abandoned his usual man-to-man defense in favor of the zone when Robert Morris played Toledo last Saturday.

One week later, the zone helped give Robert Morris its best defensive performance of the season and snapped the Colonials' 5-game losing streak as Robert Morris beat Duquesne 67-63.

"It's kind of tailor made for us, because Toledo is an extremely efficient offensive team that runs a million sets and then Duquesne is a fast-paced, aggressive, attacking offense that's really hard to contain and hard to stop," head coach Andrew Toole said. "Overall, I thought it was able to keep the game at our speed instead of their speed."

As has been custom for Robert Morris this season, the Colonials stormed out of the gates offensively by hitting their first five shots. That performance combined with the zone to fluster Duquesne early on, and Robert Morris built a 24-10 lead midway through the first half. But Duquesne closed the gap, and a late 3-pointer gave Robert Morris just a 31-29 lead at the break.

"We've started a lot of games this year and built double-digit leads in the first half. We got very stagnant offensively. When they went to zone, we were kind of standing around," Toole said. "If we get off to a good start offensively, that usually fuels us a little bit."

Robert Morris held off the Dukes in the early portion of the second half, allowing them to tie but never take the lead. The gap stayed mostly within a possession or two until Robert Morris began to pull away thanks to some contributions off the bench. Charles Oliver scored eight straight second half points as part of his 10-point effort, and Aaron Tate chipped in three rebounds, an assist and a steal while playing solid defense.

"Chuck's someone we know can shoot and make shots. That third jumper was a little bit of a heat check. I was kind of holding my breath on that one," Toole said. "He just needs to become comfortable in the speed of the game. I think he was able to be more effective today because he was solid defensively."

Tate gave Robert Morris an important 13 minutes off the bench in relief of Jeremiah Worthem and Lucky Jones. Those types of performances were what Toole had been looking for from his bench. That depth helped RMU have an answer every time Duquesne made a run.

"Desperately looking for it. The thing that was nice was it came from a variety of guys," Toole said. "If guys are out there doing what we're asking them to do, then they'll be in positions where they can step up."

Duquesne made it interesting down the stretch as Robert Morris failed to connect on the front end of several trips to the free throw line. The Dukes closed the gap to 64-61 with 46 seconds left. Robert Morris milked the clock down and as Karvel Anderson drove the lane with the shot clock ticking down, he dished off to Anthony Myers-Pate for the finish. Duquesne hit a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds left, but Anderson hit a free throw to ice the game.

"I thought we executed down the stretch offensively pretty well. I thought we ran some good sets and we got some good shots late in the game," Toole said. "One of the areas that we'll have to work on is against some of the pressure and getting to the free throw line."

Anderson finished with a game-high 17 points, while freshman Jeremiah Worthem had 15 points and Myers-Pate had 10. Lucky Jones had just five points but pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for Robert Morris.

Robert Morris (4-7) has now won four straight over Duquesne. The Colonials will host Campbell on December 18, which will mark their last home game for the next month. RMU will play at Oakland, Oklahoma State and Alabama to wrap up its non-conference schedule before starting Northeast Conference play at Sacred Heart and Bryant.

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

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