Entering the second half of its game against Lehigh trailing by 15 points, the Robert Morris basketball team needed the fresh start that a new half provides, a chance to not only regroup and correct mistakes, but also the opportunity to enter the next 20 minutes with a new, optimistic mindset.
Within 10 seconds, though, the player whom all eyes were upon entering the game -- Lehigh's C.J. McCollum -- wrapped around a backdoor screen and, with ease, leapt and caught a lob from teammate Mackey McKnight, laying the ball in gently off the glass and setting an early tone -- that there would be little difference between the game's first and second half.
Days removed from a 25-point loss to Rider in which it shot a little more than 25 percent from the field, Robert Morris suffered its second loss in as many games, falling, 89-60, Monday night to Lehigh in the first round of the Preseason NIT at the Petersen Events Center.
"What happened tonight was we played a really good team, we had some defensive breakdowns where we really needed to get stops and because we're not as sharp as we need to be offensively or defensively," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.
For the second consecutive game, the Colonials (0-2) struggled with their shooting, hitting just 33.9 percent. Lehigh, by comparison, made 51.7 percent of its shots From 3-point range, Robert Morris made only four of its 22 attempts.
McCollum led all scorers with 19 points, along with four rebounds and four assists, and was one of five Lehigh players in double figures. Forward Mike McFadden led the Colonials with 13 points and 13 rebounds. His frontcourt mate, forward Vaughn Morgan, added 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocks.
The Colonials were competitive for the early part of the first half, leading 8-7 five minutes into the game. From there, the Mountain Hawks (1-1) closed the half on a 31-15 run. In the final 11 minutes of the first half, Robert Morris made just four field goals, a span in which Lehigh took control of the game.
"It just deflates you a little bit," Toole said of the final stretch of the first half. "We've got to be smarter in those situations to make sure we're getting the shot that we want and not allowing them to get an easy shot on the other end."
Robert Morris also was undone by turnovers, giving the ball away 21 times. The Mountain Hawks scored 25 points off those turnovers.
With their first 0-2 start in three years, the Colonials will play Fordham in the first game tonight. Fordham lost to Pitt in the opener.
But even though his team ended Monday night with the same result it achieved Friday, Toole believes the Colonials might have returned to form.
"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.
"I've talked about fighting success. As much as you beat the drum that it's not last year and it's not going to be easy and it's not going to be roll it out and here comes big, bad Robert Morris and people are just going to cower -- you have to go out and earn it this year, and I think the message is starting to set in."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer. First Published November 13, 2012 6:00 AM