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March 21, 2014

Game Day: Robert Morris at Belmont

Robert Morris has been here before.

Fresh off an invigorating and headline-stealing upset of one of college basketball's historic powers in the NIT, Robert Morris has had to come up with a second act before.

One year ago, Robert Morris knocked off Kentucky and had to find a way to regroup against Providence on the road. Robert Morris was tied with the Friars at the half and had a 62-61 lead with 5:21 to go.

NIT Second Round: St. John's
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WHEN: March 21, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
WHERE: Curb Event Center
TV/RADIO: ESPNU, 970 ESPN Radio
NCAA RPI RANKINGS: Belmont 57, Robert Morris 129
KENPOM RANKINGS: Belmont 89, Robert Morris 156
PROJECTED BELMONT STARTERS: F Drew Windler (6'9, 215, RSr.), F Blake Jenkins (6'8, 220, RSr.), G J.J. Mann (6'6, 215, Sr.), G Reece Chamberlain (6'1, 180, RJr.), G Craig Bradshaw (6'3, 210, So.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C Stephan Hawkins (6'9, 205, So.), F Lucky Jones (6'5, 195, Jr.), F Aaron Tate (6'5, 220, So.), G Karvel Anderson (6'2, 190, Sr.), G Anthony Myers-Pate (5'11, 170, Sr.)

But the game unraveled from there and Providence finished off the Colonials with a 77-68 win. Head coach Andrew Toole is hopeful that the returning players from last year's team will take a few lessons away from that experience.

"I thought we played pretty well at Providence. There were some plays down the stretch that we needed to make that we didn't make," Toole said. "When you go on the road against a team like that and put yourself in that position, you just need a couple more plays to finish it out. Hopefully that's the lesson we learned."

Robert Morris is back in the second round of the NIT thanks to a few lessons it learned throughout the Northeast Conference tournament, some more painful than others. It led to Robert Morris being more detailed, but also more relaxed, as it took on St. John's. Toole was also pleased to see that Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones used that detailed yet relaxed approach to get hot early.

"Sometimes when you step outside your conference, as much as guys know and respect guys like Karvel and Lucky, they don't always the emphasis of not letting them catch the ball anywhere on the floor like some of our final opponents did," Toole said. "We were able to get them free early and they made some shots, and I think that kind of built our confidence."

Anderson and Jones stayed aggressive en route to 38 points and 25 points, respectively. It was part of a team mindset, Toole said, that made the Colonials very determined to perform at a high level.

"They were both in a place where every time they raised up to shoot it, you thought the ball was going in the basket," Toole said. "The way that we executed offense in general led us to get really open shots."

Now Robert Morris faces a new challenge. The Colonials will take on Belmont, a far more diverse and dangerous offensive team than St. John's. Where the Red Storm merely relied on its athleticism and length to score, Belmont is incredibly efficient and unselfish.

"I think they have some ball movement capability like a St. Francis (Pa.), where they don't put the ball on the floor as much but keep that ball hot and keep that defense on the run," Toole said. "They have great spacing and a lot of guys who make good basketball plays and good quick decisions."

Belmont isn't as good defensively as it is on offense, but the Bruins do pose problems. The Bruins force opposing players to make smart decisions, which means Robert Morris can't force offense and can't put itself in poor situations.

"We have to be poised enough to continue to run our offense until we get our opportunity to attack," Toole said.

If that wasn't enough, Robert Morris' "Crazy 8" may be down to seven. David Appolon injured his foot against St. John's and didn't practice Thursday. Toole said he'd be a game-time decision, dependent on whether some pain subsides and RMU can protect his foot from further injury.

"If we can get anything out of him, great," Toole said. "If we can't, then we'll have to go with it from there."

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



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