Guards improved play pushes Robert Morris to top of Northeast Conference

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Faced with the difficulty of excelling in a new role, it was time for Anthony Myers-Pate to talk to God.

The Robert Morris senior point guard comes from a strong lineage of floor generals, the kind that he can turn to for guidance and comforting words in troubling times. There’s his cousin, former Colonials standout Derek Coleman, who topped the 1,000-career-point mark before graduating in 2007.

But with Myers-Pate and his Robert Morris team struggling, it was his uncle, God Shammgod, who decided it was time to sit him down. The former Providence guard — who, besides his name, is best-known for leading the Friars to the Elite Eight in 1997 — was someone whose game Myers-Pate admired growing up. Most important, Shammgod was someone whose advice he could trust.

The words he passed on to his nephew were simple.

“He let me know that if I just keep calm and play the game the right way, everything’s going to happen,” Myers-Pate said.

And happen it has.

Heading into his final regular-season home game today against St. Francis, Myers-Pate has steadied himself while lifting Robert Morris into first in the Northeast Conference and re-establishing himself as the model of consistency.

“Whatever he feels he needs to be working on, whatever we talk about, we think he needs to get better at, he attacks it,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “I love being around him, and he’s a guy you know will give you everything he possibly can on the floor.

“I think that’s one of the highest compliments you can give a player is that he’s willing to do whatever it takes for he and his team to be successful.”

Now, 28 games into the season, Myers-Pate is averaging career highs in points per game (6.5) and assists per game (3.9), as well as a career low in turnovers per game (1.5). But, in the early moments of his final collegiate season, it didn’t always look like that would be the case.

It wasn’t that Myers-Pate was being reckless — his assist numbers were actually higher than his season averages — but in the first 10 games, he struggled to score, averaging 4.3 points per game while shooting 26.1 percent from the field.

Part of that difficulty came from the adjustment to a new role and the overcompensation that occasionally came with it.

While he was a strong contributor for Robert Morris in his first three seasons, Myers-Pate had the luxury of sharing point guard duties with Velton Jones, one of the most statistically accomplished players in program history.

At times, the added responsibility weighed on him more than it needed to.

“It was everything, honestly,” Myers-Pate said. “I just knew I had a big role to fill on this team and I didn’t want to be the reason this program dropped under my watch.”

After a number of different factors converged — talks with relatives like Shammgod and Coleman, guidance from coaches like Toole — his production has increased. In the past 18 games, he has averaged 7.7 points That jumped to 9.2 in the past nine games as a result of his making nearly half his shots (31 of 64).

Robert Morris has thrived in that span, too, winning 12 of its past 13 games to move into position to lock up the conference’s regular-season title today.

But for all Myers-Pate has accomplished, he feels his career will be incomplete unless the Colonials reach the NCAA tournament.

“That was one of my main things before the season — no matter what, I wanted to be one of the people that gets coach Toole his first championship as a head coach,” he said. “Velton and I would talk about it all the time, that if we can do it, it’s on us. We can do it.”

Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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