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March 18, 2014

Game Day: Robert Morris at St. John's

In his darkest moments, Karvel Anderson finds comfort on a basketball court.

But in the wake of last Tuesday's loss to Mount St. Mary's in the Northeast Conference final, Anderson found it difficult to gather himself on the same floor where his dreams of the NCAA Tournament were derailed.

It took time, but Anderson's excited about still playing basketball for Robert Morris University.

NIT First Round: St. John's
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WHEN: March 18, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Carnesecca Arena
TV/RADIO: ESPNU, 970 ESPN Radio
NCAA RPI RANKINGS: St. John's 68, Robert Morris 129
KENPOM RANKINGS: St. John's 38, Robert Morris 186
PROJECTED ST. JOHN'S STARTERS: C Chris Obekpa (6'9, 240, So.), F Jakarr Sampson (6'9, 214, So.), G Phil Greene (6'2, 189, Jr.), G D'Angelo Harrison (6'4, 204, Jr.), G Rysheed Jordan (6'5, 185, Fr.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C Stephan Hawkins (6'9, 205, So.), F Lucky Jones (6'5, 195, Jr.), G David Appolon (6'4, 190, Jr.), G Karvel Anderson (6'2, 190, Sr.), G Anthony Myers-Pate (5'11, 170, Sr.)

"Usually when you're down about stuff and depressed about things outside of basketball, the gym and the court is usually where you go to take your anger out, where you go to keep your mind off of things. That same place is where all the bad stuff happened," Anderson said. "A lot of teams aren't as fortunate as we are to even play in the NIT. It's not where we wanted to be, but it's still a great opportunity."

Robert Morris has seized upon these types of opportunities at times in the past. A year ago, fresh off the disappointment of an NEC tournament exit, Robert Morris regrouped to beat Kentucky. Though the Colonials won't play on their home court this time, drawing one of college basketball's storied programs in the NIT for the second year in a row is a bit of a motivator. Even just knowing an opponent, regardless of pedigree, can help clear the fog after a disappointing loss.

"Once we were able to see who our opponent was (Sunday) night, that kind of gives us a focus and a purpose to what we're doing," head coach Andrew Toole said. "Now we know who our opponent is. Obviously it's a name everybody knows and everybody respects. It's a great opportunity for us to go out and try to make ourselves feel better about the way we think we're capable of playing."

Robert Morris knows what it's going up against, beginning with St. John's place in college basketball history.

"They have a great, storied tradition, especially with the NIT. And they're a program that people know. They're New York City's team," Toole said. "I think that's a great opportunity for our program to see how we stack up against people like that."

On the court, there are some similarities to other Robert Morris opponents this season. Toole compared St. John's athleticism and length with the other major programs RMU tussled with this year, including Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Alabama. But the Red Storm also has some similarities with RMU's fellow NEC mate, Wagner. Like the Seahawks, the Red Storm protect the rim and play stout defense. St. John's leads the nation in blocks per game, led by Chris Obekpa's 2.94 blocks per contest.

Much like last year, Robert Morris is hoping for a bit of a mental edge to make up for any physical deficits. Whereas St. John's is working to avoid the upset loss and losing on its home floor, RMU has no such expectations.

"Sort of like last year, we felt as though that if we got to the NIT, it's not the worst case scenario, even though we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament," Lucky Jones said. "This is probably the perfect time for us to go in there with a hard-hatted mentality. We don't have anything to lose. Everybody expects us to lose this game, so let's go out there, play free and have fun."

The one drawback to the match-up is that Robert Morris won't make a trip to fabled Madison Square Garden, where the Red Storm frequently play. Instead, they'll play at Carnesecca Arena on campus. Now the only chance the Colonials will have of playing in MSG is by pulling off a run to the NIT semifinals.

"I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I would have loved for that to happen," Anderson said. "That just means we have to win a few games to get there."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at [email protected]



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