Robert Morris men run into tough test tonight

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When Robert Morris' 2013-14 schedule was released many months ago, one game drew the attention of nearly everybody who caught a glimpse of it -- a Nov. 17 game at preseason No. 1 Kentucky, a rematch of the Colonials' high-profile NIT upset win in March.

Since that game at Kentucky, though, the freshmen-laden Wildcats have experienced growing pains in a handful of close losses, meaning Robert Morris might have yet to face the most overwhelming obstacle on its non-conference schedule.

Come tonight, that likely will change.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Robert Morris (5-8) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1), 7 p.m., Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.

TV, Radio, Internet: ESPNU, WBGG-AM (970), rmucolonials.com.

Robert Morris: Coming off 100-94 loss Dec. 22 at Oakland. ... The loss prevented Robert Morris from securing a season-best three-game win streak. ... The 100 points allowed were the most since a 2009 loss to Syracuse. The 94 points scored were the most since scoring 107 in a 2009 win vs. Alcorn State. ... F Lucky Jones scored a career-high 27 points and G Charles Oliver had a career-high 18 points in the loss.

Oklahoma State: Coming off 78-73 victory Dec. 21 vs. Colorado. ... Has won nine of its first 12 games by 10 points or more. ... G Marcus Smart is averaging team highs in scoring (18 ppg) and assists (3.8). ... Won the only other meeting between the two teams, 75-67, Dec. 29, 1984. ... G Markel Brown is averaging 16.3 points per game.

Hidden stat: Oklahoma State is among the top-20 Division I teams in offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.

After more than a week off after a 100-94 loss Dec. 22 at Oakland, the Colonials will face their second top-10 opponent this season in No. 7 Oklahoma State. The matchup in Stillwater, Okla., tonight will not have the built-in story lines of Robert Morris' game at Kentucky, but the challenge is just as daunting, if not more so.

"Kentucky obviously was incredibly talented, but these guys have talent and some more experience," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.

"They have an older lineup -- Markel Brown is a senior, LeBryan Nash is a junior who has played a ton of minutes and, obviously, Marcus Smart is as good as anyone in the country."

After a 24-9 season that saw them bow out in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Cowboys have gotten off to a blistering start, winning 11 of their first 12 games while defeating two ranked teams in Memphis and Colorado.

At the forefront of this success has been an offense that has managed to be highly productive and efficient.

Oklahoma State has scored at least 70 points in 10 of its first 12 games and is eighth in Division I in points per game at 86.4.

Additionally, it has averaged more than 1.05 points per possession in all but one game.

"The games that I've watched, the games that [assistant coach] Robby Pridgen has watched, it's a flash," Toole said.

"They can go on runs so quickly and a lot of it is keyed on their ability to turn you over or to make you take a shot you're not comfortable taking."

No player better exemplifies that offensive potency than Smart, who, after a standout freshman season, has established himself as one of the premier players in Division I.

Rated almost universally as a top-10 prospect for the 2014 NBA draft, Smart has seen his scoring average rise to 18 points per game while improving his field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages.

For the Colonials, the timing of their matchup against the talented Cowboys isn't ideal.

After strong defensive performances in December wins against Duquesne and Campbell, Robert Morris allowed 100 points against Oakland, the most it has given up in a game since 2009.

Its 1.33 points per possession allowed were its most since 2003.

Those shortcomings negated one of the team's best offensive performances and a repeat against a talented team such as Oklahoma State would be a cause for concern.

"We've got to find a way to be more urgent at the beginning of the game," Toole said.

"Once we got down, guys really started to compete and fight, but, by that point, you're digging out of such a deep hole that it's really hard to get all the way back."


Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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