Pack Your Bags: RMU Looks to Excel on the Road
By Paul Meyer
Nov. 15, 2011
Moon Township, Pa. - Robert Morris University winning its season opener at the Charles L. Sewall Center last Friday evening wasn't a surprise.
After all, the Colonials over the past six-plus seasons are 71-17 in the Sewall Center.
So their 83-57 victory against Rider might not have raised many eyebrows. Well, maybe the margin of victory did, but the Colonials winning at home? Pretty much business as usual.
However, that win against Rider sure was a comfort because - paraphrasing here - it's good to have a win in the pocket when one looks at what's ahead on the docket.
Tuesday evening, the Colonials play at Saint Peter's in the first of five consecutive games away from the Sewall Center.
And as sophomore guard Coron Williams reminded: "Our road wins last year were minimal.''
Especially early last season.
Robert Morris lost eight of its first nine road games last season, winning only at Long Island by one point, 70-69, Dec. 2.
This season's team hopes winning its season opener at home will provide some confidence as it embarks on this lengthy trip.
"Rider is a pretty good team,'' junior guard Velton Jones said. "They're in a good league, so getting this win is a big momentum booster for us. Now we just have to move on and get better every day from here on out.''
"Very important,'' Williams said of the Rider win. "It shows what we're capable of.''
"There are a couple reasons why I think (beating Rider was) really important,'' head coach Andrew Toole said. "One, it solidifies a little bit what you've been selling for the last 10 weeks.''
In his session with the media following the Rider game, Toole reprised what he told the freshmen minutes earlier.
"This is why we do what we do,'' Toole said. "You know, you guys probably go back to your dorm sometimes and shake your head and say, ‘These guys are nuts.' Well, this is why we do it this way. So you can have the opportunity to play the way you did (against Rider).''
As noted here a couple days ago, the Colonial freshmen acquitted themselves handsomely against Rider, contributing 23 points and 26 rebounds.
The second reason why beating Rider was important?
"You always want to defend your home court and get a win to start your season,'' Toole said, "(but also) we have five away from home against quality opponents and it's going to take great efforts to go and steal some of those games. But I think if you're feeling a little bit better about yourself, you might have a better chance to do that.''
After the Saint Peter's game, the Colonials play Penn, James Madison, La Salle and Pitt.
No easy junket, but there is the confidence factor built by the Colonials' performance against Rider in general - and by Williams' performance individually.
Williams broke the Broncs with a career-high 28 points, neatly dividing his total into 14 points in each half.
"That's what I pride myself on, trying to be efficient,'' Williams said.
Williams took 20 shots, a fairly high number, and made 11, including 5-of-11 from international waters.
He knows he probably won't get 20 shots a game on a consistent basis.
"I think as time progresses, as opponents start looking at film, my shots might dwindle down a little bit,'' Williams said. "I just have to be efficient.''
Williams' performance in the opener was a carryover from his strong finish last season after guard Karon Abraham went down with a season-ending foot injury. In the final six games, Williams averaged 15.5 points per game. He was 33-of-51 from the field (64.7 percent) and was an even more amazing 17-of-25 (68 percent) from three-point range.
Williams was a bit of an after-thought at the guard position at the outset of last season.
No way that's the case now.
"My role has changed from last year,'' Williams said. "Last year, I was coming off the bench and giving the team a spark, maybe 10, 12 points. That was a good night for me. Now 10 or 12 points is not a good night anymore. I have to bring 15, 18 or (against Rider) 28. I have to do things like that now. That's my role.''
Toole credits Williams' improvement defensively with helping his offense.
"His improvement defensively has been so amazing that it allows him to play his offensive game the way he does,'' Toole said. "At the start of last year, he was so worried about playing defense and getting in the right spots, because it wasn't instinctive to him, that he didn't let his offensive game go the way that he should have. And then once he got comfortable defensively that's when his offense exploded.''
Toole paused, reflecting on Williams' 28-point evening.
"He shoots it as well as anybody I've seen in a long time,'' he said. "His teammates have such confidence in his shooting ability. It's incredible.''
There are other reasons why the Colonials should be able to pack some confidence into their travel bags for the next five games.
The play of the freshmen against Rider is one reason.
The main contributors were guard Brandon Herman, who scored 11 points and made 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, guard/forward Lucky Jones, who had 13 rebounds, and forward Keith Armstrong, who had seven rebounds.
Those three played an average of 22 minutes per man, a bit more than Toole had planned. Foul trouble incurred by upperclassmen Lawrence Bridges and Lijah Thompson caused the increased workload and rotation alterations.
"It's nice to know that if necessary you can throw some different things out there and they'll have a chance to work,'' Toole said.
The Colonials' defensive effort against Rider is another reason for optimism.
Robert Morris last season led the Northeast Conference in points allowed per game (65.5). In addition to limiting the Broncs to those 57 points, the Colonials held them to 35.6 percent shooting from the field.
"We were really good defensively,'' Toole said. "There was one ‘help' in the first half that we were late to, but other than that I'm not sure if there was another ‘help' in the first half that we didn't get to properly or the way that we drill on a daily basis. All we talked about over the (previous) three days was just doing what you do in practice, rely on the things that we do in practice and react to the game just like you do in practice and then hopefully that will get you into the right spot and in a position where you can be successful.''
The Colonials certainly got off on the right feet defensively last season when they absolutely stifled Saint Peter's in the opener at the Sewall Center. Robert Morris won, 55-30, permitting the Peacocks only six field goals in 36 attempts. The 30 points allowed and the six field goals given up are program records.
Saint Peter's, picked to finish fifth just behind Rider in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, opened its season Friday with a 72-65 loss at Buffalo. The Peacocks trailed, 52-34, with 12:27 left but rallied to narrow their deficit to four points, 67-63, with 38 seconds left. Buffalo closed out the game from the free-throw line.
Chris Prescott, a junior guard who sat out last season after transferring from Saint Joseph's, led Saint Peter's with 23 points. He was 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.