Coach Andy Toole's recipe for a college basketball team's turnaround begins with nothing more than a black folding chair and 12 feet of space.
Holding practice less than 48 hours after Robert Morris' third consecutive defeat, a home loss to Central Connecticut State, tToole had his players perform the same drill his predecessor, Mike Rice, did in his first practice in 2007.
It's a simple exercise -- Colonials players, lined single file going down the court, hold a folding chair parallel to the floor between their legs and, while squatting in a defensive stance, move laterally across the key for 35 seconds. But it's also one with a clear purpose -- to help the team defensively.
Robert Morris (8-7, 0-2 Northeast Conference) at Fairleigh Dickinson (6-8, 1-1), 7 p.m. today, Stratis Arena, Hackensack, N.J.
- Radio, Internet:
WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
- Robert Morris:
Coming off 77-70 loss Jan. 5 against Central Connecticut State. ??? Has lost a season-high three consecutive games after a five-game win streak. ??? Holds 35-30 edge against Fairleigh Dickinson and has won 10 of the past 11 meetings, including nine in a row. ??? G Velton Jones has averaged 23 points per game in the past two games, while amassing his highest scoring total in a two-game stretch this season. ??? Colonials average 33 rebounds per game, putting them among the bottom 100 in Division I.
- Fairleigh Dickinson:
Coming off 68-55 loss Jan. 5 at Wagner. ??? F Kinu Rochford leads team in scoring (17.2 per game) and rebounding (10.7 per game). ??? G Melquan Bolding, the team???s second-leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, is a Duquesne transfer.
- Hidden stat:
Robert Morris has allowed an average of 75.7 points per game in its seven losses and 62.2 points per game in eight wins.
Just as Rice used the drill to instill a defensive mindset in a program that lacked it when he took over, Toole has used it to help a team that, for the past several games, has strayed away from the stingy defense that had become its hallmark.
Indeed, it's back to basics for Robert Morris, with a simple key to improving its recent misfortune.
"Hard work," Toole said. "That's it. Hard work."
In their past three games, the Colonials (8-7, 0-2 Northeast Conference) have given up at least 77 points to opponents -- Arkansas, Bryant and Central Connecticut State. The average of 80 points per game allowed is the most Robert Morris has given up in a three-game stretch not only this season but also under Toole, who took over in 2010.
What has been the result of that lack of defense? The team's first 0-2 start in NEC play since the 2006-07 season, its first back-to-back NEC home losses since the 2004-05 season and the first time it has lost its first two NEC home games in program history.
"It all starts on the defensive end," guard Coron Williams said. "We've been giving up a lot of offensive rebounds and we've given teams extra possessions.
"We've just got to work on our defense, starting with ball pressure to finishing possessions. We're having trouble scoring and not doing what we can do on offense, but it ultimately starts on the defensive end."
There is some context to the higher scoring totals registered by the Colonials opponents, as two of the three teams they lost to in the past several weeks, Arkansas and Central Connecticut State, are among the top 30 teams in Division I in possessions per game.
But Toole said his team's defensive shortcomings are not a product of playing faster-paced teams. The problems, to him, are far more fundamental, things that maybe were overlooked when the Colonials won five consecutive games earlier this season.
"It's just lack of detail on our part," Toole said. "All of the teams are very capable offensive teams, they have very dangerous individual scorers that we've prepared for, that we've talked about. It's just a lack of will on our part, it's a lack of will and toughness on our part."
This is a team that has seen adversity when it lost three of its first four games this season, two of which were blowouts. With a two-game road swing in New Jersey, with games at Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth Thursday and Saturday, respectively, the chance for another turnaround is possible.
"We let two games get away from us," Williams said. "We've just got to get back in the gym and work. We've got to understand that we're in conference play now -- every possession is crucial from the first play of the game to the last play of the game.
"Everything is crucial. Unfortunately, we did take two losses, but we've just got to turn it around."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org.