SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Andy Toole said he felt better right before the post-game press conference than he did earlier. That’s the kind of thing that happens after winning a ballgame, and perhaps even more so when wins have been a little harder to come by than usual. They have been for Robert Morris, but the Colonials are 2-0 in Northeast Conference play and thinking about winning and something else.
“Just wanting to redeem ourselves in this league is a big thing,” said junior Karvel Anderson, who had a big trip to lead this team.
Robert Morris played a demanding non-conference schedule this year, as they often do, but that meant wins were few and far between. They played just four games at home, losing only to MAC favorite Toledo (a team that has lost just once all season) and playing at the likes of Kentucky, Cleveland State, Delaware, Oklahoma State and Alabama.
Losses mounted, but Toole said he thought the leadership on the team had the right idea. They continued to tell others on the team that if they stayed the course with what the coaching staff wanted from them, the tide would turn and wins would come in time. As the non-conference schedule wound down, the feeling was that this team was playing better, so the 2-0 start in Northeast Conference play, with both winds coming on the road, hasn’t come out of nowhere.
“I think, excluding the Oklahoma State game, in some of our final non-conference games, we started to be able to play with a little more confidence,” said Toole. “We started to be able to play with a little more understanding of what’s necessary to win, and we’ve been able to take that now into two conference games.”
Anderson will get a lot of the credit from those who just look at the box score, and there’s certainly a degree to which he is deserving. The junior guard had 36 points on 15-19 shooting on Thursday night, then followed that up with 32 more on Saturday at Bryant. He was 12-23 from the field against the Bulldogs, including 6-13 from long range, and is shooting just under 48 percent on three-pointers on the season.
“You talk about a Player of the Year-type of performance, I think he’s had two in a row,” said Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea.
And while Anderson also had other key plays on the day – he had four assists with no turnovers and had a key rebound late to seal the game – he was hardly alone. Jeremiah Worthem continues to show promise as a freshman with ten points and six rebounds, while classmate Kavon Stewart combined with senior Anthony Myers-Pate for seven assists with no turnovers at the point guard spot.
“I feel like my entire team is more together,” said Anderson. “I think we have a more cohesive unit now, so that makes it a little easier for me to have confidence in myself and confidence in other guys. They’re screening well, we have very good offensive fluency right now. It’s just easier. I can play more comfortably.”
Lucky Jones, another leader on the team, had a tough shooting day (3-13 from the field) but grabbed 11 rebounds. His play was indicative of the team, as he remained effective despite the offensive struggles. The Colonials started the second half by missing their first ten shots from the field, but they made sure the Bulldogs didn’t break away. That set the stage for making plays late to win the game.
“We started 0-10 to start the second half, and I think at the beginning of the year, this team may not have stayed with it,” said Toole. “Guys continued to battle, guys continued to fight, didn’t hang their heads, and I think it was really important for us.”
The Colonials have good depth, which was evident on Saturday as they played nine guys while without starter Mike McFadden due to injury. Stephan Hawkins stepped in with seven rebounds in 24 minutes to help in his absence. That means a healthy team can go ten deep, and if they continue to do what they have done this season that will be a big help down the stretch.
Robert Morris plays four of their next five games at home, so with two road wins in the bank this team is in position to start off very strong. They could be 6-1 or even 7-0 in NEC play by the time they go on the road for three straight in February. That would be a far cry from earlier in the season, when at one point they lost five in a row to drop to 3-7. Keeping positive was a challenge, especially given the team’s relative inexperience compared to recent teams they have had.
Toole is cautious in thinking this team is already benefiting from the non-conference schedule they played. It’s easy to think so now, but this team has shown they can lose as easily as they can win. He spoke often about players focusing, especially on the things they can control. They have done that thus far, and now the wins are coming to show for it early in conference play, which is their path to the NCAA Tournament.
And it’s fair to figure that Toole is feeling a lot better now than he did a month ago.