Moon Township, Pa. - Only two games into its Northeast Conference schedule, Robert Morris University finds itself in a tie for 10th place in the league.
Which really is a tie for last place.
Which more to the point is ...
"A dark, dark place,'' RMU coach Andrew Toole said. "Can you say, ‘Rock bottom'?''
That's sure how it felt to Toole and perhaps to at least some of his players after the Colonials lost to Central Connecticut State, 77-70, Saturday night at the Charles L. Sewall Center.
Paired with an 84-77 loss to Bryant just two nights earlier, the loss to CCSU meant the Colonials for the first time since the 2004-05 season had lost back-to-back NEC games at home.
Meant that for the first time since the 2006-07 season the Colonials had begun the conference schedule 0-2.
And meant that for the first time in program history the Colonials had started their NEC schedule with back-to-back losses at home.
Rock bottom indeed.
During his postgame presser, Toole seemed to alternate between answering questions and turning introspective.
"Another game where we don't defend,'' he said. "I have to figure out a way to get us to defend. I have to figure out a way to get us to rebound. I have to figure out a way to make us tougher mentally, physically.''
Toole sighed. Then continued.
"We have some weaknesses,'' he said quietly. "We have some weaknesses. We have to address those things as soon as humanly possible.''
He stared at an unforgiving boxscore from the game.
"It's frustrating,'' he said. "We got beat time and time again off the bounce, on straight-line drives. It's simple stuff. At some point, it becomes a personal pride issue. We were late on everything. We were late on closeouts. We were late jumping to the ball. We were late on positioning. We were late on ball pressure.''
Thus, the Colonials, who were among the preseason favorites to win the NEC, according to the league coaches, might have quickly become the "late'' favorites.
However, there is a solution to this mess in which the Colonials find themselves.
That was pointed out by senior point guard Velton Jones, who laid it out succinctly - and slowly, for emphasis.
"We have to find a way to start playing some defense,'' Jones said. "That's how we win at Robert Morris. Our defense (stinks) right now.''
And that's a huge reason why the Colonials are 0-2 in the NEC.
Bryant shot 52 percent from beyond the arc. Central Connecticut State shot 48 percent from the field.
"It's our defense,'' Jones said. "Our defense and our rebounding. That was the whole key to the game.''
It's worth noting that CCSU freshman Brandon Peel grabbed 11 rebounds in his 26 minutes. The Colonials' main post players - Mike McFadden and Vaughn Morgan - in their combined 34 minutes had only two rebounds, none of which came on the defensive glass.
"If we could have gotten a couple stops and gotten a couple key rebounds, maybe we could have won the game,'' Jones said.
One missed stop in particular helped cost the Colonials this game.
They'd battled uphill almost all evening but were within 72-70 with 54 seconds left. They came out of a timeout intent on stopping Blue Devil star Kyle Vinales, double-teaming him and harassing him and, indeed, stopping him. However, with the shot clock winding down to :03, the Blue Devils got the ball to guard Matt Hunter, who drove the lane and banked in the backbreaker.
"Matthew (Hunter) just plays,'' CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. "He's in the thick of the action. You have to wind him down, which is a plus, because some kids you have to wind up. He doesn't care where he plays, who he plays. He makes winning plays. I've said about him that he could get out of a hospital bed in the morning and play 40 minutes that night.''
On the Colonials' ensuing possession, Jones turned the ball over on a steal by Vinales, who was quickly fouled and made two free throws, sealing the deal and finishing his spectacular 34-point evening.
Consider this ...
In his four most recent games before NEC play began, Vinales scored only 47 points, making 19-of-62 field goal attempts, including 7-of-29 from deep. However, he warmed up for the Colonials by dropping 23 on Saint Francis (Pa.) Thursday night.
Against the Colonials, Vinales, the NEC's leading scorer, was 12-of-22 from the field, making more than a few contested jump shots and three-pointers.
"He brought his ‘A' game,'' Dickenman said.
"That's what he does,'' RMU guard Karvel Anderson said. "He takes and makes difficult shots. We know he's going to do that. The only thing we can do is play the best defense we can. Whoever's on him, contest the shot. We did that at times, and he still made them. That's all you can do with a player like that - contest it and pray he misses it.''
"We know (Vinales) can score the ball,'' Jones said. "Man, he's a great scorer. And if you let him get going, he can hit whatever shot he takes, and that's what he did tonight. We let him get going, and he was just hitting difficult shots.''
Turnovers also hurt the Colonials Saturday night. It wasn't so much the number (16) as it was the nature of them - bad passes, mishandled passes.
"Unforced turnovers,'' said Jones, who had five turnovers. "I take full responsibility for all my turnovers. I was pretty loose with the ball and didn't take care of it like I should have. I think it's a mental thing - just have to be mentally tough and be ready to play every minute of the game.''
That could be said for all the Colonials at this juncture.
"We got back into the game and there a couple plays when we were down two and we had unforced turnovers,'' Jones said. "That's stuff we have to work on - mental breakdowns. We just have to be mentally tougher than what we are right now.''
UP NEXT: Fairleigh Dickinson lost at Wagner, 68-55, Saturday. Kinu Rochford had 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Knights. Wagner, one of three teams to start 2-0 in conference play, got 22 points from Kenny Ortiz and a double-double from Mario Moody (13 points, 12 rebounds). Moody took up some slack left by the absence of Seahawk standout Jonathon Williams, who didn't play because of a hip problem.
NEC NUGGETS: Bryant, which handled Robert Morris last Thursday night, also moved to 2-0 with a 78-58 victory at Saint Francis (Pa.) Saturday. The Bulldogs led, 40-18, at halftime. Alex Francis led Bryant with 21 points while guards Dyami Starks and Frankie Dobbs, who torched the Colonials for a combined 55 points, contributed a combined 29 points ... Sacred Heart joined Wagner and Bryant at 2-0 with a 66-65 win against visiting St. Francis (N.Y.). Shane Gibson led the Pioneer offense with 28 points. Teammate Louis Montes, who scored 35 points last Thursday night against LIU Brooklyn, had only five points against the Terriers ... Monmouth lost at Mount St. Mary's, 71-59, making only half its 10 free throw attempts. Andrew Nicholas topped the Hawks with 19 points. Monmouth played without Marcus Ware (ankle) ... Quinnipiac turned back visiting LIU Brooklyn, 82-74. Quinnipiac outrebounded the Blackbirds, 39-22, but made just 16-of-28 free throw attempts. Point guard Jason Brickman led the Blackbirds with 16 points and nine assists.