Moon Township, Pa. - There is no question the victory for Robert Morris University at LIU Brooklyn last Saturday was a big win for them.
The triumph moved the Colonials into second place in the Northeast Conference. It was achieved on the road against the two-time defending NEC Tournament champions. And it gave the Colonials the tie-breaker against the Blackbirds if that comes into play for the NEC Tournament.
So, no question, a big win. OK.
But how big a win was it? How significant? We really don't know that yet, but we'll begin learning how big and how significant it was Wednesday night when the Colonials (15-8, 7-3 in the NEC) play Saint Francis University (2-19, 2-8) at the Charles L. Sewall Center.
A loss to the Red Flash by the Colonials would erase much of the glow from the win at LIU Brooklyn.
However, a victory by the Colonials Wednesday night would give them more momentum entering Saturday night's home game against Wagner (12-9, 6-4).
"That's something we'll challenge guys with,'' RMU coach Andrew Toole said. "How mature they can be after having a good performance. Can they continue to play the right way and do the right things?''
Toole definitely liked what he saw from his team in its gritty 60-57 victory at LIU Brooklyn. They secured that win two days after a rather dysfunctional loss, 71-61, at St. Francis Brooklyn.
"I don't think we did a good job (against St. Francis Brooklyn) in terms of our maturity,'' Toole said. "We allowed our focus to wander a little bit. Saturday we had incredible focus. Everybody was really locked in and engaged on what was important. That was getting a stop, getting a rebound, taking a great shot. It was something we challenged them on - doing the things tough teams do. We really challenged them to be mature and to be tough during the course of the game on Saturday, and we have to continue with that for the remainder of the season.''
As you've read in this space, toughness can be an issue with the Colonials.
One thinks it would be comforting to Toole if he didn't have to worry about his team's toughness game in and game out.
"That's something that in the past with some of our better teams we counted on,'' Toole said. "I think at times during the course of this season it's wavered. It's something we have to hammer home each and every game and have to hammer home each and every day in practice and try to build. We have to reward people for making the right decisions and really teach guys who aren't making the right decisions.''
One indication of a team's toughness is how it plays in a game that it "should'' win judging by the respective teams' records and series history.
That's an intriguing aspect of the Colonials' assignment against Saint Francis University. Not only are the Red Flash in last place in the NEC, but the Colonials also have won 10 consecutive games in the series.
"Unfortunately, sometimes in your head you build a perception of what a team is,'' Toole said. "You have to make sure you're respecting your opponent and make sure you're ready to play all the time. I think every game presents a great challenge. You have to figure out what that challenge is and you have to figure out what way you can (best) relay that to your guys. One of the things we use a lot and probably is more pertinent now than ever is the limited number of opportunities we have to go on the court for the rest of the season. Right now, we have 320 minutes to play (in the regular season). We have to figure out a way to be motivated for all 320 of them.''
The Colonials won at Saint Francis University, 84-70, two weeks ago using kind of a three-pronged approach offensively.
"He made the first shot,'' Toole said. "OK, we've seen him do that before a number of times. Then the next three possessions he was open. All of a sudden you could start to see his eyes get big on the possessions after that. I don't know if he was really open, but he was feeling it and was able to knock them down.''
Anderson, the junior college transfer from Glen Oaks Community College in Michigan, has done exactly what the Colonial coaching staff envisioned him doing this season - score.
"That was one of the first things we saw (in Anderson),'' Toole said. "It was one of the things we were trying to address - bring in another guy who could make shots to complement Coron (Williams). We knew it was something that hurt us at times last year was the fact that we didn't have another outside shooter. At certain times we needed somebody else who could stretch defenses or keep defenses honest. That was the first thing that attracted us to Karvel. As we've found out, it was just one of the many reasons why he's been such a great addition for us.''
Each team had injury situations in the game at Loretto. Center Mike McFadden didn't play for the Colonials, while guard Umar Shannon and forward Stephon Mosley sat out for the Red Flash. All should play Wednesday night.
Shannon leads the Red Flash with an average of 12.6 points a game, while Mosely averages 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
"Umar Shannon adds a different dynamic,'' Toole said. "He's a guy who can score on his own. He doesn't necessarily need set plays. He doesn't necessarily need a lot of time or space. He's had big games against us in the past.''
Shannon's 2011-12 season ended in Saint Francis University's opener at Virginia Commonwealth in which he scored 26 points before sustaining an injury. Against the Colonials two seasons ago - in the days of Rivalry Week in the NEC - Shannon scored 23 points at RMU and then 25 points against the Colonials three nights later in Loretto, Pa. In those two games, Shannon was a combined 17-of-32 from the field, including 10-of-19 from deep.
"Mosley's a guy we haven't seen before, so he's a guy we can really talk to our guys about,'' Toole said. "Also, there are some things we wanted to do in the first game that we didn't do very well. Those are some of the things we'll talk about.''
Wednesday night's game is the first "repeat game'' for the Colonials this season. Are there difficulties in preparing for a team the second time around?
"One of the things that's difficult about it is you're so familiar with them from having played them the first time and from watching them in a number of games,'' Toole said. "Depending on the outcome of the first game, sometimes it's more difficult to motivate your team. But we really try and watch that first game and figure out what mistakes we made and where they're going to try and adjust so we can try to counter that.''
Something else to watch for Wednesday night is whether Coron Williams can get his shot going.
The junior guard, who was scoreless at LIU Brooklyn, has gone five consecutive games without getting into double figures. And over his past six games, he's scored only 26 points. In those six, he was 8-for-34 from the field, including 3-of-18 from beyond the arc.
"I don't think it's his mechanics,'' Toole said of Williams' woes. "I think it's a little bit of a slump. I think some of it is he hasn't gotten a ton of great looks. We have to keep working to get him more great looks. He's got to continue to work to try to hunt some shots. I think that's one of the things that good shooters do - when teams are taking them away (defensively) they find breakdowns in the defense. They move to be able to get shots when they're available to them.
"There were times in Thursday's game where there were opportunities for him to present himself. There were even opportunities Saturday for him to present himself to a teammate being open on the perimeter that he didn't do. Sometimes you have to send up flares.''
The Red Flash ended a streak of 15 consecutive road losses Saturday by beating St. Francis Brooklyn, 64-61, after an 82-62 loss at LIU Brooklyn last Thursday night.
"We challenged our guys after the LIU game to play together and to be more of a team and not a bunch of individuals,'' first-year head coach Rob Krimmel said. "I thought we did that for 40 minutes (at St. Francis Brooklyn). We screamed for each other. We picked each other up. Down the stretch, we made winning plays.''
LIU LEFTOVER: The win at LIU Brooklyn made Robert Morris 78-22 in its last 100 NEC games. Velton Jones, who played with a right shoulder sprain, made a huge shot with 9.8 seconds left, scoring on a floater in the lane to give the Colonials a 58-57 lead.
Courtesy of the NEC, here's Blackbird coach Jack Perri's take on Jones' shot: "The kid made a big-time shot. Jones, as hurt as he was, was not trying to shoot most of the time. He was driving and kicking. We thought that was what his motive was (on the final shot). He's just a tough kid, and he made the tough shot.''