Matty McConnell dives for a loose ball in the second half against Central Connecticut.
By Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Elijah Minnie wasn’t present during warmups or on the bench in Robert Morris’ 65-60 loss against Central Connecticut State Thursday at the Sewall Center. And the Colonials will have to get used to his absence.
The sophomore forward, a consistent starter and the team’s second leading scorer (about 12 points a game to go with his 7 rebounds per game) “probably won't be back at all,“ coach Andy Toole said after the game.
“This is a place that I have great respect for,” Toole said. “This is a program that, through a lot of guys’ blood, sweat and tears, we have become a successful program. And I’m not going to let people that don’t value this program be a part of it.
“If you don’t want to work, if you don’t want to be a part of the program, if you don’t want to be about what this program stands for, you can’t be here. It’s not about you,” he said. “In the short term, it probably shortens our bench a little bit. But I think we’ll be much better in the long term because of it.”
The Colonials (6-18, 4-7 Northeast Conference) struggled against one of the worst teams in Division I in Central Connecticut (3-19, 2-9) without Minnie and junior point guard Kavon Stewart, who sat out one game for violating team rules.
Robert Morris yet again dug a double-digit hole in the first half, trailing by as many as 23 points. And, while the Colonials made a valiant second-half comeback effort — improving their shooting from 25 percent to 47 percent from the field and 12 percent to 25 percent from the 3-point line — it wasn’t enough.
“A team that’s 1-9 coming into the game, not that we’re basing it off their record, but it’s really hard to let them get up 16 in the first half. It was probably even more than that,” freshman guard Matty McConnell said. “I feel like if we hadn’t gotten down … that game would have been different. But there’s a lot of what-ifs.”
McConnell and fellow freshman guard Isaiah Still seemed to be the only Robert Morris players on the court consistently giving a complete effort.
Still scored game-high 19 points as well as seven rebounds; McConnell ended with 13 points, 8 assists and 5 steals.
Beyond the stat sheet, it appears McConnell has taken on the on-court leadership role, as he gathers the team into huddles and talks to the group.
He also continued playing after his problematic left shoulder was dislocated twice in the game.
“[McConnell is] trying to make a difference because he’s not comfortable in the environment or the situation of looking at your record and seeing 6-18,” Toole said. “He’s trying to change it. So the only thing he’s thinking about is how we can win. … We need more guys with that kind of mentality.”
With seven games left, the Colonials are tied for eighth in the 10-team conference. But winning, or even just making, the conference tournament might be secondary to rehabilitating the program as a whole.
Megan Ryan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.
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