Since the end of the regular season, Robert Morris players have worn camouflage shirts under their practice jerseys.
It began last Tuesday with hunting shirts, but — perhaps realizing the military doesn’t shop at Cabela’s before going into combat — the team switched to traditional Army camo a few days later.
Monday, a day before the Northeast Conference championship against Mount St. Mary’s, those camo shirts were red, black and white. Despite all the changes, there has been a single constant — that behind the colors is a simple, and loaded, message.
“The coaches came up with this from the start of the tournament,” forward Lucky Jones said. “They got a new motto — ‘We’re going to war each and every game.’ And to play Mount in the championship, who ended our season-long hope of making the NCAA tournament last year, it just puts more emphasis on why we really wear these shirts.”
With the winner earning a spot in the NCAA tournament, there’s obviously a lot on the line for the Colonials. But even with those stakes, there’s also a revenge angle.
While most will remember the victory against Kentucky in the National Invitation Tournament last season, few can recall why Robert Morris was there in the first place. It entered the NEC tournament as the top seed and favorite, but lost to Mount St. Mary’s in the semifinals, cutting the Colonials’ run to an NCAA tournament berth unexpectedly short.
Between the opponent and the postseason implications, tonight’s matchup will present an ideal situation for any athlete.
“To have the chance to control your own destiny is something we feel very confident in,” guard Karvel Anderson said.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s on us if we get in or not.”
As last season’s loss exhibited, playing against the Mountaineers can be difficult, particularly in the gamut of a single-elimination tournament.
Before coming to Mount St. Mary’s, second-year coach Jamion Christian was an assistant at VCU, working under Shaka Smart and his “Havoc” defense. Christian has brought that fast-paced, pressing system with him from VCU. He calls it “Mayhem,” and it has produced promising results.
“It’s just a unique style that if you’re not ready for it, it’s difficult to face,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “Even if you have a lead or feel like you’re getting some good things early, it can take its toll on you and eventually turn the tide.”
Regardless of the result, the game will be the end of the Colonials’ NEC journey this season, much of which has taken place with an undermanned team.
After Saturday’s win against Saint Francis in the semifinals, Anderson expressed what the matchup with the Mountaineers means to him and his team.
“I feel like it’s the perfect ending to the story,” he said. “They kind of got us last year, so this year, it’s our turn to hit them where it hurts in the final game of the tournament.
“There’s no better way to end what the ‘Crazy Eight’ have been through than to end it going through ‘The Mount.’”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.