Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defensive Intensity Pays Off

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defensive Intensity Pays Off

Article excerpt

Robert Morris' Northeast Conference quarterfinals win Thursday against Monmouth wasn't a few minutes old before Colonials coach Andy Toole told his team to start thinking about the next goal: a semifinals matchup against second-seeded Wagner.

"We talked about in the locker room that this was step one of hopefully a couple more steps," Toole said. "And they need to start to prepare themselves tonight, so that, when Sunday comes around, they're physically as well as mentally prepared."

The second half of that equation -- mental readiness -- may be especially important, considering the result of the Colonials' first game against Wagner this season.

The Seahawks jumped to a 14-2 first-half lead against Robert Morris Feb. 2 and never looked back, winning, 80-69. The Colonials made a late run, but were doomed by the slow start.

"We didn't come out with the energy that we needed to," Toole said.

Robert Morris didn't get the win, but the Wagner game seemed to serve as a sort of turning point for the Colonials, who held Wagner to 38.1 percent shooting in the second half, down from 60 percent in the first. That built the foundation for the Colonials to win six of their last seven games heading into the NEC playoffs. They easily handled Monmouth, 87-68, in the opening round.

Toole pointed out that the biggest difference since that first game against the Seahawks has been the increase in defensive intensity. After allowing 80 points against Wagner, Robert Morris has given up an average of 60.8 per game since. After the win against Monmouth, Toole emphasized how that defense-first mentality is more important in the postseason.

"Every time you have a breakdown, every time you try and cut a corner, every time you try and relax or stand up or take a play off, you're going to be taken advantage of," he said. "And, every time you do that, you're jeopardizing your season continuing. That's the mindset we have to have going into the game: that every bucket they get, they're really going to have to earn."

The Colonials also have shown signs of offensive growth since early February. Against Wagner, redshirt junior guard Velton Jones scored three points on 2-for-15 shooting. …

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