With the teams heading into their game a combined 0-6 since Dec. 20, Robert Morris and Central Connecticut State were in desperate need of a win -- or, at the very least, some positive momentum as Northeast Conference play begins.
While both were undoubtedly eager to put an end to their respective skids, it was the Blue Devils who found a way to come through and do just that.
Guard Kyle Vinales, one of the most productive scorers in Division I, scored 34 points, helping lead Central Connecticut State to a 77-70 victory Saturday against Robert Morris, which has lost a season-high three consecutive games, at Charles Sewall Center. The Colonials' struggles come on the heels of a five-game winning streak, another season high.
"I've got to figure out a way to get us to defend," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "I've got to figure out a way to get us to rebound. I've got to figure out a way to make us tougher -- mentally, physically. We've got weaknesses and we have to find a way to address those things as soon as possible. It's frustrating."
It is the first time in school history Robert Morris (8-7, 0-2 NEC) has lost its first two NEC home games, as well as the first time since the 2004-05 season it has lost consecutive NEC home games.
For the Colonials, the root of their setbacks is a simple one -- defense. Saturday marked the third consecutive time they have given up at least 77 points, a streak which has not-so-coincidentally seen them go 0-3.
"Our defense [stinks] right now," Robert Morris guard Velton Jones said. "Our defense and our rebounding -- that was the whole key to the game right there, if we could have just gotten some stops and gotten some key rebounds, maybe we could have won the game."
Central Connecticut State (5-8, 1-1) entered the game having gone almost a month without a win, and from the outset, it made sure to put its imprint on the pace of the game. The Blue Devils are among Division I's top 20 teams in possessions per game, playing at a sometimes frantic pace. Utilizing that approach, they led for virtually the entire game, and by as many as 11 points in the second half.
Robert Morris gradually cut into that deficit in the second half, getting within two points several times in the final 10 minutes.
The final instance came with 54 seconds remaining when guard Karvel Anderson made a jumper that reduced the Blue Devils' lead to 72-70. But Central Connecticut State responded with a basket from guard Matt Hunter. That was followed by a turnover from Jones six seconds later and from there, Vinales made two free throws that effectively ended the game with 14 seconds left.
The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Blue Devils, who started the season 4-3.
"We gutted it out," Central Connecticut State coach Howie Dickenman said. "I told our guys it was a test of character and how we were going to respond coming off a loss we thought we should have won. We answered the bell."
The Colonials began the season losing three of their first four, but were able to respond with a five-game winning streak. Now, the task becomes the same with the team needing to rebound to salvage the early part of its NEC schedule.
"We're in a dark, dark place. Can you say rock bottom?" Toole said. "Maybe that's what you need to hit, maybe you need to hit rock bottom. It's like an addict -- it's got to hit rock bottom before they figure out it's a problem. We've got some dudes that are addicted to laziness, some dudes that are addicted to excuse-making, finger-pointing."rmusports
Craig Meyer: email@example.com.