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Colonial Concerns

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The Robert Morris men's basketball team is struggling through its worst season in 15 years. After winning 20 games in seven of the past eight seasons, the Colonials are already at 20 losses this season. What happened in Moon Township?

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – For Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole, the questions started last spring.

The May departure of 2014-15 Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year Marcquise Reed from the Colonials left many questioning the player-coach relationship, Reed’s personality, and even the quality of Toole’s program.

What was not questioned was the Colonials’ ability to get back to a postseason tournament in 2015-16, especially with the majority of their core scorers and playmakers coming back.

Two months after Robert Morris lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to the eventual champions, the Duke Blue Devils, Reed announced his intention to transfer to Clemson. Toole helped Reed through the process, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a major loss for the team.

“Unfortunately, it’s something that is part of the landscape of college basketball,” Toole said. “(Reed) was a very talented guy, a guy you could rely on to score for you – very efficient in his scoring. So from that standpoint, his departure hurt.” 

Fast-forward nine months. It’s late February and Toole’s team is in danger of failing to defend its conference crown, having barely qualified for the NEC tournament.

There are plenty of reasons for the Colonials’ disappointing season, but the loss of Reed has not been the sole cause for RMU’s struggles. It has not been a lack of talent or scoring, nor has it been a lack of intensity on Toole’s behalf.

It hasn’t been any one thing, but rather a combination of factors that ultimately led to 20 losses – after having won 20 games in seven of the past eight seasons. The biggest factor, thought, is fairly simple to identify with one glance at the team’s results: inconsistency.

“Our consistency of effort and urgency – we lack it in games that we lose,” senior Rodney Pryor said. “When we have it, those are games we find ourselves successful in. If the mind isn’t there, you’re not always gonna get the energy and intensity that you need.”

Toole has mentioned “mindset” repeatedly, and there is a reason for his doing so.

Reed transferred to an ACC school before the season started; that should not be discouraged. If an athlete is good enough to play in a higher-level conference, so be it. But four other players also left the program during the season. Joe Hugley decided to transfer after not playing the first few contests. Lionel Gomis, Stephan Bennett and Minnie all quit the team at different times this year for various reasons.

The Minnie situation received an unusually large amount of publicity for a mid-major program. The infinitely talented sophomore forward parted ways with the Colonials following numerous suspensions, including an indefinite suspension that ultimately led to his departure.

Toole said that the problems began the minute Minnie stepped foot onto campus in the fall of 2014.

“It just wears you out,” said Toole. “A couple of things occurred in a short timespan where we felt he needed to miss some practice. He didn’t like that. We had a pretty honest conversation about his ability to be with the program moving forward, and everyone decided it was best to go our own way.”

The team misses Minnie’s considerable size and talent, but the Colonials’ inconsistency was present well before his departure.

After losing four of their first five NEC contests, Robert Morris put together a three-game winning streak that was immediately followed by a three-game losing streak.

“Our competitiveness has dropped,” Toole said. “Whether it’s the ability to fight through fatigue and handle adversity, or the ability to be physically or mentally tough.”

The Colonials’ flaws were further exposed after a slew of injuries—and suspensions—to key players at key positions.

In addition to the four players who left during the season—all of whom were forwards—RMU lost Pryor and forward Andre Frederick to concussions for three and five games respectively. Senior Aaron Tate had to be shut down for the year because of a leg injury, and guards Kavon Stewart and Isaiah Still were suspended for one and three games each for violations of team rules.
Robert Morris Elijah Minnie
“Every time you pull somebody out or put somebody into the rotation, everything gets shuffled,” Toole acknowledged. “We have never had a stretch of time where everybody’s been on the same page for multiple games.”

The remaining players have no interest in making excuses, however.

“It’s no secret that we’re not in the position that we want to be in,” Stewart said. “We’ve been here before. We know what it takes… We just have to go out and win.”

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