MOON TWP. (93.7 The Fan) – It’s not there yet, but glimpses of the defense that used to make Robert Morris a threat for the NCAA tournament season-after-season. RMU took league favorite Northern Kentucky (15-9, 10-3) to the wire before the Norse pulled away late for a 65-52 win Thursday night, breaking a three-game Colonials winning streak.
When Robert Morris (11-13, 6-7) was challenging for NCAA Tournament appearances, it was because of their defense started by Mark Schmidt to Mike Rice to Andy Toole. It’s starting to come back, just not as quickly as the current head coach would like. What is holding them back is between the ears.
“It’s all mental,” Toole said Thursday. “It’s how you prepare yourself. How you are able to make decisions. How you are able to compete and fight. There is a mindset you have to have.”
“Everybody on every team across the country they are so physically gifted and capable and skilled. Guys are bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled than ever before. The separator is the mental. How can you execute your plan? How can you be in the right spot? If someone takes away option A can you get to option B? If things are not going great for you offensively, can you dig in defensively?”
“It’s a mindset.”
“These guys have been a great group to coach all year long. Once we got into the fight and fire, we didn’t have the same ‘let’s figure this out’. Let’s keep getting stops. Let’s keep battling. Let’s keep fighting and figure out if we can be one point better.”
Toole continues to work to get that belief back. As he noted, they have the physical tools, coming into the game third in the Horizon League in defense with a pair of 16 point-a-game scorers. They just don’t dig in as he would like when the going gets tough.
“That’s not a common mindset across the board,” Toole said. “That used to be a more common belief among teams. We are just going to fight and scrap and figure it out. Now it’s much more like, if things aren’t going my way then I question how much effort I want to give. Not that our guys haven’t given effort, but to beat Northern Kentucky you have to give more effort.”
“You can’t have some of the breakdowns we had on the defensive side. I think there was a little bit of that in certain points.”
Northern Kentucky, picked as a conference co-favorite, took a tie game with eight minutes to play to a 15-point lead in the span of seven minutes. The best defense in the Horizon League, the Norse forced 19 RMU turnovers. They turned those mistakes into 21 points.
Already with more wins in the conference than their previous two seasons, Toole looks for more edge with his group. He wants his team to celebrate the defensive victories as much as the offensive. As he continues to instill that mindset, this program inches back to where it used to be.
· RMU forward Kahliel Spear 17 points and 10 rebounds
· RMU guard Enoch Cheeks 20 points, 8 rebounds
· RMU plus seven in rebounds
· NKU shot 52% FG in the second half
· Steals-Northern Kentucky 12, RMU 4
· Only 15 total free throw attempts, NKU 8 of 9
Colonials finish a four-game homestand against Wright State Saturday at 7p.