Known Quantity: Abraham Looks to Take Game to Next Level
By Paul Meyer
October 26, 2010
Moon Township, Pa. - The sting lingers. Probably will for a long time, too.
"I still think about it to this day,'' sophomore guard Karon Abraham said a few days ago.
Senior guard Gary Wallace had a daily reminder of it during the summer. The player he worked out with only had basketballs with "Villanova'' on them.
"I had to look at that every day,'' Wallace said.
"That was our game,'' redshirt sophomore guard Velton Jones said, "but it didn't fall our way.''
It sure didn't.
Robert Morris, a 15 seed which led almost all of regulation time, including by eight points with 3:57 left, lost to No. 2 seed Villanova, 73-70, in overtime March 18 in a riveting first-round NCAA Tournament game in Providence, R.I.
And yet the game was not without its silver linings for the Colonials.
They gained a ton of attention and respect throughout college basketball, and Abraham became a budding star.
A neutral fan watching the second half unfold in a sports bar in western Ohio remarked, "Everybody in the place was rooting for Robert Morris.''
Abraham, a 5'9'' guard, got those fans' attention with two scintillating plays midway through that half.
With 11:09 left in regulation, he banked in a three-pointer from between the left elbow and baseline, was fouled on the shot and made the free throw, converting a four-point play that gave the Colonials a 42-34 lead.
"I think that was the most exciting play of the day,'' Abraham said. "It was amazing to me because I wasn't expecting it. I didn't think it was going to bank, but I guess because of the way I was leaning it banked. That was an awesome moment for me.''
Want another awesome Abraham moment?
Just over a minute later, he made a scoop-tee-doo, reverse layup that kept RMU ahead by eight.
When a guy makes those kinds of plays for an underdog in an NCAA Tournament game, most non-partisan fans begin to believe that team will win.
"That's how I felt,'' Abraham said, "but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.''
Abraham, who started that game with a trio of three-pointers in the first five and-a-half minutes and finished the game with another trey that got the Colonials within a point with 11 seconds remaining in the overtime, had a remarkable performance.
He scored 23 points, matching his career-high, and was 7-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-11 from deep.
"Unreal, especially that up-and-under shot he made,'' Jones said of Abraham's game against Villanova. "The kid can shoot.''
That game capped an equally remarkable season for the freshman from Paterson, N.J.
He set an RMU freshman scoring record with 477 points. He led Northeast Conference freshmen with a scoring average of 13.6 points per game. He led the league in free throw shooting with an 85.1 percentage. He was second in the league with 85 three-pointers and second in the league with a shooting percentage of 44.3 from behind the arc.
"Watching him last year was great,'' Jones said. "Playing with him was even better. It was exciting.''
Abraham was named the NEC Rookie of the Year. He was voted the NEC Tournament's Most Valuable Player after scoring 53 points in the three games.
And he could have won another award had there been such an honor - Most Unlikely Player to Have That Kind of Season.
Oh, not that Abraham didn't have the ability. It just seemed he wouldn't have the opportunity.
Senior Jimmy Langhurst was supposed to play a lot of minutes in the backcourt, with Abraham coming off the bench to provide a defensive spark and at times an offensive burst.
However, when Langhurst went down in late December with a season-ending knee injury, Abraham had his chance.
He scored 20 points in RMU's 72-67 victory at Youngstown State Dec. 30 and never looked back.
Neither did the Colonials.
That win started a stretch of 19 wins in 23 games leading to the Villanova game. Abraham averaged 14.8 points a game in that span.
Langhurst was impressed.
"It's remarkable as a freshman to come in and produce how he's producing,'' Langhurst said a few days before the Villanova game. "I would have never thought that he'd be the leading scorer on a veteran team. He's doing something remarkable right now, and if he keeps it up, shoot, the future's crazy for him.''
The rest of Abraham's RMU future begins Nov. 13 when the Colonials open the season at home against Saint Peter's.
What does he do for an encore?
Get even better.
"I think he can,'' head coach Andy Toole said. "And his stepping up might not be in points. Oh, his average might be a point or two higher, but it might be in other things. He averaged 2.2 rebounds a game. He's going to have to get three or four rebounds a game for us. He's going to have to have maybe more assists.''
Last season, Abraham had 53 assists and 63 turnovers.
"He can increase his entire game,'' Toole said. "He can increase his leadership. Last year, he didn't speak in practice. He wouldn't say anything in practice. Now he's a sophomore. He's one of the older guys, one of the most experienced guys. He can't do that anymore. There are a lot of areas of his game that he can improve on.''
Abraham appears to relish the opportunity to be more vocal on a team that has only one senior, Wallace, and welcomes five newcomers, including four freshmen.
"Awesome,'' he said of the new players. "I love them. I feel as if I've known them for years. We all bond. And they're willing to listen and come together and learn the formula and work hard to help us do what we've been doing the past three years.
"They don't know the system at all yet and don't know what it takes to win a Division I game. I found that out last year. We're trying to teach them. They're starting to get it now.''
As Abraham and his teammates did last season, especially against Villanova.
"It boosted my confidence to a level where I know I can play with those high-level players,'' Abraham said. "And we can play with those teams. I'll use that to motivate me more to get back there and maybe get past that first round. That's why we're all hungry here and ready to come back.''
Abraham is aware that he won't "sneak up'' on any teams this season as he might have done at times last season. He's aware that he'll be the focal point of opposing defenses.
Toole, Abraham said, reinforces that point "all the time.''
"Every day he tells me, 'This is going to be one of your toughest years because everybody knows who you are,''' Abraham said. "He says, 'You have to be able to come out and show people that you have different ways of scoring, not just catching and shooting. You have to be able to show that you can pump-fake, drop-step and stuff like that.'''
Abraham takes Toole's message to heart.
"It's just going to push me more to see if I can improve and live up to that challenge, just like I did last year,'' Abraham said. "I lived up to a challenge that I didn't even expect was going to happen.''