As his team prepares for its annual game against Duquesne, Robert Morris coach Andy Toole spoke with a few members of the media about the matchup with the Dukes, what the rivalry (if there is one) means, how the Dukes are progressing and how the team's offensive struggles have hurt it defensively.
Below is a full transcript of that conversation, with questions in bold preceding Toole's answers. As always, if you have any questions about this post or the team in general, feel free to email me or hit me up on Twitter at the addresses italicized at the end of this post.
Do you all view this game as a rivalry?
“We look at it as a rivalry. I know our guys get excited about it. From an alumni interest or fan interest vantage point, I think I get more emails or commentary about how we do against Duquesne than how we do against a lot of our other opponents. It is a rivalry. We take every game seriously, but I think our guys get excited to play against Duquesne. Some of it’s because of familiarity because they know each other from the summer league and things like that. We view that as a rivalry and hopefully they do the same.”
Does it kind of give you all a boost of energy you’ve been looking for?
“I hope. I think the last couple of years, we’ve played really hard against them and hopefully we’ll do the same this year. We’re looking for an energy source anywhere and if it can be our opponent, then great.”
What challenges does Duquesne bring?
“Obviously, they’re shooting the ball really, really well from 3. Micah Mason and Derrick Colter are a terrific backcourt. Last year, Mason didn’t play against us, which I think kind of helped us a little bit. Each year that coach Ferry’s been there, they’re bringing in bigger, stronger and more physical athletes and they’re bringing in a lot of bodies that fit the A-10 mold. When he first got there, that wasn’t necessarily the case, but each and every year, he’s added pieces. Those are things that will definitely pose challenges for us considering we’re not rebounding great and not really defending the rim well. All of those things will be things we discuss and prepare for and hopefully, we can execute on Saturday.”
These are both perimeter-oriented teams that don’t get much offense down low. Do you view this as a matchup of similarly-constructed teams?
“Yes and no. Yes, both teams get a lot of their scoring from the perimeter. Ours isn’t necessarily by choice that we’re getting it from the perimeter. We’d like to get it from other places than that. I think in that aspect, you look and say that guards are some of the strengths of this game. But we need other guys, front-court guys, to play better and for everybody to play better. There’s not one group of our team where we can say ‘Okay, you guys just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll have the rest come along.’ I think everybody’s got to play better and everyone’s got to understand what they’re doing out there better. We have a lot of improvement to do.”
Does this Duquesne team more closely resemble some of Ferry’s old LIU teams as opposed to how it was when he first took over at Duquesne?
“I think so. They’re getting some of their guys in and, again, recruiting more size than they did with some of his LIU teams. I think he has some versatile guys who can play inside and out, guys who can make plays off the bounce, guys who are attacking and playing at a similar pace to the way they played at LIU. I think he’s close to getting the last few pieces that he needs to compete. He does a very, very good job. Twenty-nine or thirty times a year we root for them and one night a year, we try to compete as hard as we can against them.”
Seeing difference in energy between games and practices?
“I think there are some guys that are bringing it in practice that aren’t bringing it as much in games. I don’t know if that’s a comfort level [thing], where they’re comfortable in practice and practice is more favorable for them. We’ve talked to those guys about that and we’ve said to them ‘Hey guys, we can’t change our roster. We do good things in practice because you bring energy or you’re making a hustle play or you’re doing something and we get in the game and you don’t do any of those things.’ It hurts the flow of your team and when you’re 2-6, you can’t really be worried about losing anymore. You have to figure out ways you can make positive plays to help your team win. Some of that’s going to come with risk. Some of that’s going to come with putting yourself out there, whether it’s by creating an offensive play for a teammate, whether it’s by scrapping or fighting defensively or hustling down a loose ball. Those are things we have to do more consistently in order to win games. The last two games here at home – Youngstown State and Buffalo – the number of loose balls we got beat to, for me as a coach, is embarrassing. We’re still trying to figure out how to explain that you really can’t have success unless you’re willing to do some of those things. That’s why all I’ve been saying for the last week is ‘It’s worth what you’re willing to pay for it.’ We’re not willing to pay the price it takes to win the game, whether it’s with blood, sweat and tears or great detail or great execution or toughness or whatever. That makes it hard to survive in Division I basketball if you’re not willing to do those things.”
What’s your overall defensive assessment of the team so far?
“From a defensive standpoint, we’ve had some good performances. I think our offense has been more of an issue than our defense. Obviously, our field goal percentage defense is not very good. But in the games where we’ve been competitive and in the games we’ve won, our defense has been good. Even if you look at Carolina and Georgetown, our positioning was much, much better than it had been. Against Lafayette, our defensive effort was terrible. But if you went from the Georgetown game until Youngstown State, we were giving up less than one point per possession in that stretch. That’s with a lot of new faces and new bodies learning how to play. One of the things we’re not doing from a defensive standpoint is finishing possessions very well. The longer it gets in a possession, like it is with most teams, the better the chance that it will break down. And in the past, the longer we would get in a possession, the tougher we would become. We’re just an ordinary team when it comes to late shot clock situations and really having to strap up late in a possession and say ‘Hey, we have to get a stop.’ That’s something that’s hurt us a lot.”
How much does the offense missing a lot of shots affect the defense?
“It shouldn’t, but it does. If you have mentally-tough individuals, missing shots should strengthen your defense because you’re supposed to say ‘We’ve got to get some stops. We’re not scoring the ball so we’ve got to figure out a way to get stops.’ It’s had a negative effect at times, where guys say ‘Oh man, we missed, so we’re not going to give the same energy.’ We’ve shown guys film where after we make a basket, our activity defensively is noticeably different than it was previously. That’s a problem. I think one of the things that’s really hurt our defense, especially in these last two games, is we give our opponents 10-12 points per game on uncontested layups off turnovers. We turn the ball over at the top of the key or out front and they go and they take uncontested layups. So we give up 89 points to Youngstown State and obviously they deserved to win the game, but if you look at some of the self-inflicted wounds and say ‘Man, if we wouldn’t have given out those 12 points where they ran out and had uncontested layups, it’d be a different game.’ Against Buffalo, it was the same thing, with eight to 12 points just on us turning it over and falling down, them picking it up and racing down and making a layup. We don’t get those on the other end. Again, our offense missing shots is definitely an issue, but also just taking care of the basketball is an issue. We don’t really value the ball and some of our decision-making I think comes from a lack of knowledge. I think some of it also comes from a lack of understanding defenses and it’s something that we’re trying to remedy as quickly as we possibly can.”
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