Robert Morris playing the role of underdog in Northeast Conference tournament
March 1, 2016 4:45 PM
"I think anybody would much rather be the higher seed than the lower seed,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said.
By Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Robert Morris is the defending Northeast Conference tournament champion, having won a league-record eight trophies. The team has qualified for 13-straight NEC tournaments and reached the title game six of the past seven years.
But this season, the Colonials are in unfamiliar postseason territory.
The squad just barely sneaked into the conference tournament as the final No. 8 seed, the lowest seed for the Colonials in their 13-year streak of making the tournament. The Colonials (10-21, 8-10 NEC) travel to No. 1 seed Wagner (20-9, 13-5) at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a quarterfinal matchup.
The Colonials lost at Wagner, 62-54, in the final regular season game Saturday and also fell to the Seahawks, 72-69, at home on Jan. 4. Wagner won its lone league tournament title in 2002-03 after also winning the regular season.
In the history of the NEC tournament, the bottom seed has never beaten the No. 1 seed. Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said his team has experience playing with the expectations of a higher seed, so coming in as an underdog is a little unknown.
“Each year that we’ve been in the quarterfinal game, we’ve been a higher seed up until now, and it can get interesting,” Toole said. “We’ve played some close ones. We’ve been down at the half a couple of times. It’s a different way to kind of massage your team through it. But I think anybody would much rather be the higher seed than the lower seed.”
Toole said his team struggled with rebounding and turnovers in the two games against Wagner this season. The Seahawks outrebounded the Colonials, 87-55, in those two games and scored 45 points off turnovers to Robert Morris’ 39. But facing the team again just four days after the last meeting should help his team quickly correct some of those mistakes, Toole said.
Another good sign is Robert Morris’ road record. In league play, the team is better on the road (5-4) than at home (3-6).
Senior guard Rodney Pryor, who today was named to the All-NEC first team, said other teams’ gyms usually bring a bigger crowd and more energy than the Sewall Center, which motivates the Colonials. And in general, he said his team’s collective mood has lifted now that it’s the postseason.
“You don’t want to go into the postseason feeling down or sad on yourselves,” Pryor said. “I know we didn’t end the regular season the way we [wanted], but we caused a lot of those wounds on our own. So we know that if we fix those, we’ll sit good in this game.”
Junior point guard Kavon Stewart has the most NEC tournament experience of anyone on the team and had a strong message for his teammates ahead of the quarterfinals.
“Not every team gets a chance to do what we do, and what we’re doing right now,” Stewart said. “Some teams are either saying goodbye to their seniors or planning what they’re going to do next year. And for us to be where we are and having the season that we had, we should be very, very happy.”
Matchup: No. 8 Robert Morris (10-21) vs. No. 1 Wagner (20-9), 7 p.m. today, Spiro Sports Center, Staten Island, N.Y.
Robert Morris: Coming off 62-54 loss at Wagner. … Freshman G Isaiah Still led the Colonials with 15 points off the bench while senior G Rodney Pryor had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his eighth of the season. … Freshman G Matty McConnell leads the NEC in steals, averaging 1.93 per game.
Wagner: Coming off a 62-54 win against Robert Morris. … Junior G Michael Carey had a game-high 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds off the bench. … The Seahawks are on a five-game winning streak. … This is the sixth time Wagner has recorded 20 or more victories and the first since 2011-12.
Hidden stat: Wagner swept the regular-season series with Robert Morris for the first time since 2002-03.
Megan Ryan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.
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