(Photo: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)
It's been a while since I've done one of these, so let's jump right into some thoughts and observations from Robert Morris' win against Bryant last night:
*** He didn't lead the team in scoring -- that would be Karvel Anderson with 24 points -- but Anthony Myers-Pate was the story from last night's game...and that was before he gave us the details on his health condition in the post-game press conference.
The senior point guard had a career-high 21 points and those came on an eight-of-nine shooting performance, the best showing from the floor of his college career. That was impressive enough, but as I elaborated some in my game story, he played with the flu, vomiting as recently as the pregame shootaround. As good as that is, the fact that Andy Toole wasn't surprised at all by what Pate did is all the more telling to me.
As steady as Pate has been throughout his career, he's never been much of a go-to scorer, which is fine because not everyone needs to be. As a point guard, if you get can teammates involved and not turn the ball over, you're doing pretty damn well. And that's what Pate has done for so much of this season. But the past three games -- a.k.a once RMU went down to eight players -- he has averaged 14.7 points per game, way up from the 5.2 points per game he was averaging in the 19 games before that.
I don't envision a game where both Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones are extremely off, but there will undoubtedly be ones where one of them is, meaning that someone else will have to step up and have a big scoring day. With Jones going 1 of 12 for five points last night, that was the case and Myers-Pate was there to step up.
*** I know Bryant's not the tallest team, but the fact that Robert Morris -- a team with only one player taller than 6-foot-6 -- won the rebounding battle 36-28 (including a 12-8 edge on offensive boards) is commendable. There's a sort of tenacity that wasn't quite as apparent the first part of the season from these players. I'm not sure if it's because they're faced with the reality that they'll have to do everything possible on the court with only eight guys in uniform, but it's been pretty easy to see.
*** Perhaps it's because we're often blinded by what a good shooter he is, but the development of Karvel Anderson's overall game has been remarkable to see. It's been on full display for much of the season, but it's really started to come through the past couple of weeks.
Last season, he was a catch-and-shoot kind of guy because that was a deeper, more balanced team and that's what they needed him to do. But this season, he attacks the basket aggressively and he's come a ways as a defensive player, too. One need not look further than his block on a fast break dunk attempt to get a full idea of what kind of complete player he's become.
*** No update from Toole on Mike McFadden and Desjuan Newton. I asked him after the game if there was an update on their respective statuses and just got a simple "Nope." If I had to guess, I don't think we'll see either of them the rest of the season, but I'm not a betting man.
*** I've been debating about how much stock to put in Bryant's late run last night -- that is, how much to read into Robert Morris almost completely squandering a 13-point lead in the final 10 minutes. With just eight players, it's easy to say that they maybe just got tired, but as I've said before, I really don't see this as a conditioning issue.
If anything, the Bulldogs' run was something of an equalizer. The Colonials started the game on an 11-2 run and that lead was relatively stable for the next 25 minutes, so it was only a matter of time before Bryant went on one, too. The two teams are separated by only one spot in the KenPom rankings and though some games are outliers, Robert Morris is not 13 points better than Bryant, even at home.
*** Granted, we're only seven games into the conference slate, but Wagner and Bryant are easily the two best NEC teams I've seen (aside from Robert Morris). There are still games against LIU-Brooklyn, St. Francis (NY) and a suddenly-improved Fairleigh Dickinson team, but I think the Seahawks and Bulldogs may be the biggest obstacles to RMU making the NCAA Tournament.
*** It's hard to not talk about the atmosphere at the game last night, which was probably the most frenzied home environment I've seen for a regular season game in my 14 months on the beat.
As a writer, I hate fan-shaming because a) it's PR, not journalism and b) I'm not really in a position to tell people how to spend their time and money. I was in college this time two years ago and from a student's standpoint, I understand how hectic life can be, so I've never been someone who's appalled when the student section isn't filled (not like I would be anyway).
With all that being said, though, I figure players and coaches had to see that scene last night and think to themselves 'Man, why can't it be like this every game?' A crowd's impact on the outcome of a game is pretty overrated -- if a player lets fans dictate how they play, they shouldn't be in Division I -- but it definitely leads to a cool, intimate atmosphere.
*** This is probably an obvious statement given the fact he put up 30 and 10, but I was really impressed with Bryant's Alex Francis. He's not the tallest guy out there for someone with such good numbers in the post, but he gets the job done.
It seemed like easily 75 percent of his baskets came after he pulled a spin move in the paint to create some separation for a clear look. And it worked every time. It reminds me a little bit of that club scene in 'Knocked Up' where Seth Rogen is only doing that dice-throwing move on the dance floor. It's all he has, but he used it well and it landed him Katherine Heigl (and eventually a kid, I guess). Francis doesn't have a wide array of post moves, but the one he does have, he uses extremely judiciously.
*** David Appolon was excellent last night, with nine points, five rebounds and three assists (and no turnovers). Toole spoke last night after the game about how with the lack of bench players, certain guys have been able to play freer on the court, stripped of any possible fear of being removed from the game for a mistake. I think Appolon epitomizes that sentiment.
Appolon's a guy that's always been an intriguing piece on the team, but he never really got much time on the court and wasn't able to do much in that limited time. With more time, he's suddenly looked a lot better and a lot more comfortable. This isn't an indictment of Toole because if a player's looking inconsistent in inconsistent minutes, there's no reason you should be playing them all that much unless you have to (as is the case now). But now that he is getting the time, the junior's making the most of it.
*** As long as Robert Morris keeps winning with eight players, it will become a bigger and bigger story. We've already started to see more local TV and radio coming to games and practices of recent, and if the Colonials so much as win the NEC regular season title (which is appearing increasingly likely with an effective three-game lead right now), this may even morph into a national story beyond the occasional tweet from someone like Jon Rothstein or Jeff Goodman commending Toole.
For all the stuff that's surrounded the program lately -- the non-committal statements surrounding absent players, the bureaucratic hurdles to try to just figure out if students are still enrolled -- this team has been hellaciously fun to watch the past three games and I'm sure for fans, it's been the same way.
The future's obviously uncertain, especially with just eight players, but the next five or six weeks are going to be so interesting to watch. Whether it's me as someone who writes about the team or fans in the Sewall Center bleachers, let's enjoy this.
and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG