After his team's 75-66 win Thursday against league-leading Long Island, undoubtedly Robert Morris' biggest win this season, coach Andy Toole was asked if he was concerned about his team's mindset going into its game today against St. Francis.
Toole didn't hesitate to answer.
"Absolutely," he said. "The way I look at it, regardless of my team's psyche, every game's a troublesome game. Every game presents a different issue, every game presents a different problem that we've got to solve."
The Colonials (16-6, 7-2 NEC) have had no problems showing up to play in big games this season. They have posted wins against crosstown rival Duquesne, mid-major power Ohio and, most recently, the Blackbirds, who hadn't lost an NEC game since Jan. 22, 2011.
- Matchup: St. Francis (10-10, 7-2 NEC) at Robert Morris (16-6, 7-2), 7 p.m. today, Sewall Center.
- Radio, Internet: WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
- Robert Morris: Coming off a 75-66 win Thursday against Long Island. ... Leading scorer Velton Jones (17.2 points per game) paced the Colonials in three statistical categories against the Blackbirds, with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. ... The victory Thursday gave the Colonials their first four-game winning streak this season. ... Split the season series with St. Francis last year.
- St. Francis: Beat Saint Francis, 75-65, Thursday. ... Picked by NEC coaches to finish 11th in preseason poll. ... Off to their best NEC start since 2000-01, when the Terriers finished 16-4 ... Leading scorer Stefan Perunicic (13.7 ppg) has made 43.2 percent of his 3-pointers and leads league with 2.85 3-pointers per game. ... Coach Glenn Braica is in his second season and owns 25-25 record.
- Hidden stat: Robert Morris and St. Francis rank second and third in the NEC in rebounding margin.
The problem for Robert Morris has been the day-to-day grind conference play presents. Last weekend, they struggled to earn wins against Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth, two teams at the bottom of the standings. Toole and redshirt junior guard Velton Jones admitted that the intensity and effort, especially on defense, has been inconsistent.
Still, Jones said the Long Island game could serve as a springboard, showing the Colonials what happens when they play disciplined, focused basketball for a full 40 minutes.
"I think this could change our season around," Jones said. "[We went from] making a lot of mistakes on defense in previous games to following the game plan to a 'T'."
St. Francis (10-10, 7-2 NEC) was picked by the coaches to finish 11th in their annual preseason poll, but the Terriers are tied with Robert Morris for second, one game behind Long Island.
While St. Francis may not provide the same kind of motivation the Blackbirds did, Toole said he hopes to draw on the two games against the Terriers last season. The teams split the season series, with St. Francis winning by two, the Colonials by three.
"What I think helps is we had two absolute wars last year with St. Francis," Toole said. "Hopefully, some of the older guys can remind the younger guys or let the younger guys [know] about how hard, how physical, how intense the game's going to be."
The game against Long Island probably was Robert Morris' best this season, but Toole and Jones agreed it would be meaningless if the Colonials failed to follow it up with a strong performance against the Terriers.
"I don't know if we've put 40 minutes together like we did [against Long Island] all year," Toole said. "I'm not sure we've even been close to 80 yet on a weekend."
Those second 40 minutes could be crucial. A win would allow the Colonial to keep pace with or gain on Long Island, while a loss would drop them at least one spot and possibly more in the NEC standings with eight games left.
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.