Robert Morris must be perfect on road
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The final road trip of the regular season for the Robert Morris men's basketball team will pit the Colonials against the Northeast Conference's two last-place teams.
But coach Andy Toole is not breathing easy.
"There's no bottom of this league," he said.
Game: Robert Morris (12-13, 8-6 Northeast) at Fairleigh Dickinson (4-21, 2-12), 7 p.m. today, Stratis, Hackensack, N.J.
Radio, Internet: WPIT-AM (740); RMUColonials.com.
Robert Morris: Won back-to-back games against Saint Francis last week. ... Ranks among the top half of the NCAA in assists per game (13.8) and rebounds per game (35.6). ... Ranks third in the Northeast Conference in field-goal percentage defense (.420). ... Can clinch an NEC tournament berth with a win.
Fairleigh Dickinson: Loser of nine consecutive games, including two games last week to in-state rival Monmouth. ... Lost to Robert Morris, 83-65, Jan. 13 at the Sewall Center. ... Ranks 34th in NCAA Division I in rebounds per game (38.2). ... Would be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss.
Of note: This will be Robert Morris coach Andy Toole's first game in his native state as head coach.
The Colonials will play tonight at last-place Fairleigh Dickinson and Saturday at 11th-place Monmouth.
Neither will be an easy win, Toole said.
Fairleigh Dickinson beat Central Connecticut State, second in the Northeast Conference, earlier this season and took the Blue Devils to overtime later in the year.
Among Monmouth's losses this season are a two-point loss to conference-leading Long Island, a four-point overtime loss to Central Connecticut State, a three-point loss to the Colonials on the road, and nine other losses decided by five points or fewer.
"We can't let up just because they're the last two teams in the conference," senior guard Gary Wallace said.
"Those are the teams that can spoil your season."
Fairleigh Dickinson is led by senior guard Mike Scott, a preseason all-conference selection who averages 15.0 points per game. Two other Knights average more than 10 points per game.
Fairleigh Dickinson also boasts one of the NEC's tallest lineups. The Knights start two players who are 6 feet 8 and have two on the bench who are 6-7 or taller.
The Colonials have just one player taller than 6-7, Mt. Lebanon graduate Deion Turman, a freshman. And Turman has played just nine minutes in conference games this season.
The Knights also play zone defense while most NEC teams run a man-to-man defense.
"We have to be prepared for that," Toole said.
The Colonials must enter the game "as if we're playing the first-place team in the league," Toole said, and learn lessons from missed opportunities earlier this season.
The Colonials, he said, had several winnable games they let slip away, and they cannot afford to do that as they close out the regular season.
With a win tonight, the Colonials would clinch an NEC tournament berth for the ninth consecutive year. Eight of 12 NEC teams qualify for the tournament, and Robert Morris, currently tied for fifth in the conference, needs to place fourth or better to play at least one tournament game at home.
But Toole said the Colonials should not focus past tonight's opponent.
"Right now our goal is to beat FDU," Toole said. "We understand what the conference race is, but we don't look past our next opponent because we haven't shown the maturity to look at the big picture."
First Published February 17, 2011 12:28 am