RMU eyes defensive intensity
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Over the past five seasons, the defining hallmark of Robert Morris basketball has been defensive tenacity.
Since 2007, under former coach Mike Rice and now Andy Toole, the Colonials have held 60.6 percent of opponents under 70 points. Nine times in that span, they have allowed 45 or fewer. Nine of the program's top 15 defensive games, in terms of points allowed, have come in the past five years.
Over the past three games, however, the Colonials (13-6, 4-2 NEC) have given up an average of 71 points per game. They are 1-2 in that stretch.
In a 78-76 loss against Quinnipiac Jan. 12, Robert Morris gave up 51 points in the second half, more than it allowed in the entire 51-44 win Nov. 25 against La Salle.
- Matchup: Robert Morris (13-6, 4-2 NEC) at Fairleigh Dickinson (1-16, 0-6), 7 p.m. today, Stratis Arena, Teaneck, N.J.
- TV/Radio: WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
- Robert Morris: Coming off a 70-67 win against Sacred Heart. ... Redshirt junior Velton Jones' streak of 70 consecutive starts ended against Sacred Heart, but came off the bench to score 18 points. ... Jones leads the team with 15.7 points per game and is 33 shy of the 1,000-point career mark.
- Fairleigh Dickinson: Lost to Longwood, 87-83, Monday to extend its losing streak to 14 games. ... Only win came Nov. 18 in a 73-62 victory against Saint Peter's. ... Junior G Melquan Bolding, whose college career began at Duquesne, leads team (14.5 points per game) and scored 38 against Longwood.
- Hidden stat: Through six conference games, Robert Morris ranks last in NEC in 3-point field-goal percentage allowed (41.8); Fairleigh Dickinson is last in making 3-point shots (25.4 percent).
"We haven't defended," Toole said. "I don't know why that happened. I know it's not always easy to defend, but, if that's what you do, if that's your strength, if that's what has allowed you to be successful, why you would stop doing that is beyond me."
Toole and redshirt junior Velton Jones both said the key to ramping up the defensive intensity is simply effort, in practice and on game day.
"If you practice hard, games can be easier," Jones said. "Our preparation has a lot to do with it, so, once we go into games, it's already there."
In Robert Morris' 70-67 win Saturday against Sacred Heart, the Colonials led by 15 with about 10 minutes left and looked ready to cruise to a comfortable win, but Jones said they got too comfortable and allowed the Pioneers to creep back into contention.
Sacred Heart's Shane Gibson hit seven 3s, and Robert Morris currently ranks last in the NEC in 3-point field-goal percentage defense.
Toole also shook up the starting lineup for the game against Sacred Heart, inserting Anthony Myers and benching Velton Jones for the first time in the past two years. He said the hope was to instill more defensive intensity from the outset, but called it a "failed experiment" after Gibson hit an open 3-pointer on an out-of-bounds play on Sacred Heart's first possession.
Toole said he realizes that playing defense might not always be fun, but it usually is more reliable than a good offense when it comes to winning games.
"It's not the easiest thing," he said. "These guys would probably rather I said, 'OK here's the plan, we're going to go and shoot 40 3s a game.' But this is who we are and this is what we have to do to give ourselves the best chance to succeed."
Even with the recent struggles, the Colonials rank first in the league in points allowed per game. Because most of the problems appear to be self-inflicted, the Colonials remain in good position to challenge for the NEC title if they can get back to playing their best defense. That will start tonight, when they travel to Fairleigh Dickinson.
"Being able to figure out what's wrong is step No. 1. Trying to correct it is step two, and then executing is step three," Toole said. "I think we've identified it, we're trying to correct it and Thursday night we'll see if we can execute it."
NOTE -- Forward Russell Johnson (broken thumb) missed the game against Sacred Heart, and guard Coron Williams (ankle) sat out most of the second half. Both were limited in practice this week, but Toole said he expects both to play Thursday.
First Published January 19, 2012 12:00 am