Colonials' untied defense dominates
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During the course of a season, so many things can change a team's trajectory.
One play, one injury or, sometimes, one fashion choice.
Robert Morris coach Andy Toole has gone without a tie with his attire for the past four games, and the Colonials have ripped off four consecutive wins since he lost the neckwear. The most recent victory came in a 69-40 victory Thursday night against Bryant.
It might help that the past four wins have come against four teams in the bottom four of the Northeast Conference standings, but Toole has been impressed with his squad's defensive improvement nonetheless.
"I think it's just the energy," Toole said. "I think it's just the energy we've given. If you watch the tape [from January] you won't see us pressuring the ball like we have."
Redshirt junior Velton Jones led the Colonials with 19 points, his highest total since Jan. 28. Junior forward Lijah Thompson returned after missing the last game with back spasms, and chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
The win gave Robert Morris (20-8, 11-4) its fourth 20-win season in the past five years, and seventh in program history. The Colonials have a chance to clinch a top-four conference finish, and a home game in the NEC tournament, with a win Saturday against Central Connecticut State.
While the offense took some time to find its rhythm Thursday, the Colonials defense was tenacious throughout.
Robert Morris forced Bryant (2-25, 1-14) into 25 turnovers, the highest total by a Colonials opponent since the season opener.
"We're going back to old Robert Morris basketball," Jones said. "Old Robert Morris basketball used to go up and pressure people. In the middle of the year we got away from that."
The Bulldogs actually stayed with Robert Morris early, keeping within two as late as 7:28 before halftime.
The Colonials shot just 36.7 percent in the first half, and were 1 of 9 from 3-point range. They were aided by 16 Bryant turnovers that led to 15 Robert Morris points in the opening 20 minutes.
"The turnovers, I think, are a byproduct of that [defensive] energy and that effort," Toole said. "Kind of speeding people up a little bit and trying to make them somewhat uncomfortable."
Robert Morris led, 31-19, at the break, opened up the second half on a 9-0 run and never looked back.
Jones said the team has loosened up during its four-game winning streak, and is playing more relaxed basketball.
"We've been trying to do that," he said. "Have more fun playing games. Play hard, but just have more fun playing. Earlier in the year we were too uptight."
The victory came without the services of freshman Lucky Jones, whose knee was injured in practice Thursday. Jones' absence, as well as the blowout nature of the game, meant more playing time for freshmen David Appolon, who played 16 minutes and Brandon Herman, who played 18.
Toole said it was valuable to get the younger players some extended minutes as the Colonials come down the home stretch.
"You never know when you're going to need guys," he said. "I still tell them every day, 'If you can go in and help us for two minutes, that's a huge plus.' "
Toole said there was "a decent chance" Lucky Jones could play Saturday, but he wasn't sure.
First Published February 17, 2012 12:00 am