Offense is a key as Colonials recover from early drubbings

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It was little more than 20 minutes after his team had lost 89-60 to Lehigh a month ago, its second loss by 20 or more points in as many games, when Robert Morris basketball coach Andy Toole made what seemed like a curious comment.

"This is going to be one of the most bizarre statements ever -- we lost by 29 points, but I think I got my team back tonight," Toole said that night in the bowels of Petersen Events Center.

The man who spends countless hours of practice and preparation with his team knew best. Ultimately, it was a statement not rooted in hyperbole, but in careful observation and fact.

Since the loss to Lehigh on Nov. 12, Robert Morris has posted a 7-2 record, winning six of its past seven games after an underwhelming 1-3 start.

The Colonials were picked to finish near the top of the Northeast Conference this season after a 26-win campaign a year ago, something which Toole thinks may have made the team complacent in its early games.

Since those final 20 minutes against Lehigh in the preseason National Invitation Tournament, it has been a different story.

"During that Lehigh game, I think our guys really came to the realization that we need to try to be successful together and I think they came to the realization that we need to try to adhere to the formula which has allowed us to have success over the past five years," Toole said. "I think we got their attention back and, since that time we haven't been perfect by any stretch, but I think we've improved and I think we've understood that you can't shortcut the process of becoming a good team."

As much as a change in the team's overall mindset has helped its success, so has a more productive offense. After averaging 61.8 points in their first four games, the Colonials have averaged 70.9 points per game in their past seven, a stretch that has seen them score fewer than 60 points just once.

Part of that offensive reawakening has come from guard Karvel Anderson. A junior college transfer, Anderson came into the season as an unknown, but has emerged as one of the team's leading scorers at 11.7 points per game.

Many of the Colonials' top performers -- guard Velton Jones and his team-high 12.5 points per game among them -- were expected to score. Anderson? Not so much.

"We knew that he had the ability to really help us offensively in regards to scoring the ball in an efficient way," Toole said of Anderson. "I didn't anticipate that Karvel would become as good as he's become or as solid as he's become defensively."

The Colonials' run, one which has included potential resume-building wins against Ohio and Duquesne, has made their non-conference showing largely successful.

With games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas remaining before the start of NEC play, Toole and his team understand the importance of entering league play on a strong note.

"I think having that fine balance of playing with confidence and playing well, as well as understanding you need to follow the process, prepare yourself, be humble ... I think having that fine balance is something that's really important," Toole said. "You're constantly trying to build your team and build your program to hit its stride come conference play and I think we've made some great strides here in the month of December so far."

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Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com. Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.


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