Colonials' defensive lapses fuel slow start

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Karvel Anderson has been at Robert Morris for less than two years, but he's well versed in a formula, one that allowed the Colonials to excel on defense well before he arrived in Moon.

It's a scheme composed of several different variables, from where they rotate players to how they try to force opponents to certain points of the court. For all the moving parts of this system, there has been one certainty -- it has worked, a pillar for Robert Morris' five postseason tournament appearances in the past six seasons

Given that past success, the current defensive struggles are puzzling. What is far less confusing, though, is how those shortcomings have added up to an underwhelming start.

"We just don't have that grit in us defensively that we need to," Anderson said.

Scouting report
Matchup: Robert Morris (3-6) vs. Toledo (7-0), 4 p.m., Sewall Center.

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Robert Morris: Is coming off 84-76 loss Dec. 4 at Youngstown State. ... Has lost four in a row and six of its past seven. ... F Lucky Jones scored a career-high 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Youngstown State. ... Won most recent meeting against Toledo, 69-51, in the 2012 tournament.

Toledo: Is coming off a 91-75 victory Dec. 4 vs. Detroit. ... Has scored at least 79 points in each of its first seven games and is averaging 92 points per game, the best mark in Division I. ... Has shot 52.5 percent from the field, the sixth-best mark in Division I. ... G Rian Pearson leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game.

Hidden stat: Robert Morris' four-game losing streak is its longest since the 2004-05 season.

With an 84-76 loss Thursday to Youngstown State, Robert Morris fell to 3-6, its worst nine-game start since 2004. The Colonials allowed more than 80 points for the sixth consecutive game, the program's longest such streak in more than a decade.

"It's not improving very much at all," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "We're trying to figure out ways we can try and improve at it, but it's difficult. To be a good defensive team, you have to have five guys that are dedicated and putting forth the effort to do the right things.

"Sometimes we'll have two guys that are doing the right thing and three that are breaking down. Sometimes we'll have four guys doing the right thing and one guy breaking down. As soon as one guy breaks down, it makes it really hard."

Despite shooting a season-best 50 percent from the field against Youngstown State, Robert Morris negated any offensive momentum by allowing a season-worst 1.26 points per possession.

That bleak defensive outlook wasn't limited to Thursday's loss. In six of their first nine games, the Colonials have given up more than 1.1 points per possession (under one point per possession is generally considered a good defensive showing).

Experience undoubtedly plays a role, as about half of Robert Morris' roster consists of players who had never played a Division I game entering this season.

"When you have that inexperience or you're uncomfortable, then sometimes you give up on plays because you're not sure what you're supposed to do," Anderson said. "With the season progressing and with so many new guys, I hope that that helps us."

The defensive numbers could potentially get worse today when the Colonials face Toledo at Sewall Center. Not only are the Rockets undefeated and ranked ninth in Division I in offensive efficiency by, but they also feature a roster in which every player shoots at least 48 percent from the field.

Toledo is far from the only offensively competent team remaining on Robert Morris' schedule, meaning the team's defensive fortunes, at some point, will need to be turned around.

"There's some added difficulty because some of our guys, whether they're returners or new guys, don't necessarily buy into it as much as they probably could, so they're not improving at it as quickly as they could," Toole said. "I've got to figure out a way to convince them how important defense is, whatever defense it is."

Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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