After a two week road trip, the Robert Morris Colonials (2-4) finally returned to Western Pennsylvania. Waiting to welcome them back to the Charles L. Sewall Center were the Youngstown State Penguins (4-4) from the Horizon League.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's matchup, RMU has seen glimpses of improvement from both Rodney Pryor (already an NEC Player of the Week) and Marquise Reed, not to mention the expected prominence of Lucky Jones.
Youngstown State subscribed to the theory of "the only thing better than one guy below 6-0 is two guys below 6-0." Both Marcus Keene and DJ Cole stand below the six-foot mark. Does that matter? Or course not. Keene came into tonight averaging 18 points per game while Cole added 6.25 assists to the table.
The first half told the story of chaos for both teams. At one point, Kavon Stewart turned the ball over while driving to the basket, only to steal the ball right back and lose it a second time. The ball never traveled more than five feet.
Between bad passes, mid-court steals, bad box-outs and flat out uncoordinated basketball, both sides still managed to produce a decent first-half box score (48-46). RMU did their damage by penetrating the lane with Pryor and Stewart while Lucky found his touch from both mid-range and beyond the arc. Youngstown State worked inside and out with Keene and Cole from deep and 6-10 center Bobby Hain in the paint.
On the offensive end, Hain lived in the lane. He had free access to the ball at the top of the key and even down to the top of the restricted area. From there, he had his pick of a cutting wing or a mix of post moves and RMU had no answer.
And then the last 30 seconds of the first half happened.
A missed opportunity from RMU turned into another loose-ball scrum beneath the basket. Just as it seemed that Youngstown State was going to come away with the ball, Elijah Minnie grabbed possession and landed a soft dunk for RMU.
As Youngstown State brought the ball up for what should have been the last possession, Coach Andy Toole switched the Colonials into a man-to-man defense. That change was enough to disrupt the play of the Penguins and Lucky Jones stole the ball and was off to the races. Since Elijah Minnie's dunk was a little soft, Lucky clearly thought he deserved another shot.
The alley-oop was executed to perfection and Minnie threw down a dunk that sent the "Colonial Crazies" into insanity.
If that wasn't enough,Lucky immediately stole the ball and buried a fade-away 3-pointer. The building and the team erupted like the game was over.
If that sequence ended the game and not just the first half, you would be watching the replay on the news tomorrow.
The rest of the game showed glimpses of the same chaos but with better effort from Youngstown Stare. Robert Morris shuffled between its 2-3 zone and man-to-man defenses with some success. However, no real answer was ever found for Bobby Hain, as he ended the night with 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting and 14 rebounds.
While Youngstown State moved everything through Hain, Robert Morris moved the ball solidly throughout the team. The result was usually a catch-and-shoot situation for Lucky Jones, who ended the night with 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting.
In the end, it was effort that failed RMU. With the game tied at 75, RMU missed a couple of opportunities on the offensive end and fell to the Penguins, 89-81.
STATS TO REMEMBER
- The teams combined for 23 turnovers and 17 steals and the ball spent an incredible amount of time in limbo. Youngstown State seemed to find the loose ball almost every single time.
- Both teams shot over 50 percent from the field: equal parts good shooting and soft defense.
- From the first game of the season through today, Lucky Jones spoke about a full game of effort. After the game, Jones said, "Until we start playing hard for 40 minutes, that's when we'll start winning."
- Toole spent the better part of seven minutes talking about energy and desire. He captured his team's lack of effort and the damage it can cause when he said, "It was 3 and a half minutes left, 72-all and we lost 17-9." Whether you play for a mid-major school or in a power-house conference, Coach Toole nailed it when he said, "Every time you relax, you put yourself in jeopardy of winning the game."