5 observations: Colonials take first steps in exhibition win

Photo credit: RMU Athletics
Robert Morris won its exhibition opener over Saint Vincent College77-57 Tuesday night at the Sewall Center. Here are my five observations from the game:
Welcome to Robert Morris, Matty McConnell
As Andrew Chiappazzi tweeted during the game, was that Matty McConnell or Karvel Anderson? The freshman Pittsburgh product was impressive in his first action as a Colonial. McConnell’s stat line ended with 23 points, two assists and two steals, going 8-of-13 from the field and 7-of-12 from three-point range in 30 minutes of action. He missed his first two shots of the game, but responded by making his next four, three of which were from downtown. He came out and scored Robert Morris’ first six points of the second half. 
Kavon Stewart and Rodney Pryor would repeatedly drive the lane, draw two defenders and kick out to a wide-open McConnell on the wing. Pryor and McConnell have noticeably already formed solid chemistry together. 
Freshman Matty McConnell finished with 23
points in the exhibition vs. Saint Vincent.
(Photo credit: RMU Athletics)
“The first couple of shots weren’t falling, but Rodney and Kavon being the leaders that they are, they just told me to keep shooting,” McConnell said. “Once I got into that wing spot, I hit a couple threes and just tried to find my way back to that same spot and got comfortable there.”
McConnell wasn’t perfect, typical to any freshman in his first game at the collegiate level. He had trouble with slides in the 2-3 defensive zone, and sometimes caught himself overextended. Defensive issues, however, can improve with more time on the floor.
Toole said McConnell’s performance was nothing different than what he’s shown in the practice setting. 
“It’s what he’s been recruited to do and obviously what he’s capable of,” Toole said. “The other parts of his game will develop as he gets more experience. There was a couple times he was confused defensively, and when you make seven threes, that makes the coaches feel better about some of the defensive breakdowns.”
Minnie sits, but posts strong second half
Toole started Andre Frederick and JUCO transfer Billy Giles in the frountcourt, leaving sophomore forward Elijah Minnie out of the starting lineup. Minnie sat the entire first half, but entered the game after halftime and performed well.
He finished with six points, eight boards and two steals in 17 minutes on the floor.
“We were simply just cleaning something up,” Toole said. “We wanted to send a quick message of making sure guys are where they need to be when they need to be there. I think it was a good way to, hopefully not only send a message to Elijah, but to everyone else on the roster that there’s accountability that’s necessary. I thought he handled it really well.”
Minnie is as critical piece as anyone on the roster to Robert Morris’ success this year. 
Pryor: An obvious leader
No surprise, Rodney Pryor showed that he’ll be Robert Morris’ go-to guy this season. Pryor said in the preseason that he’s been a lot more comfortable after a full year without injury, and it showed. 
He was more explosive on the offensive end, took better command of the offense and got his teammates involved. He finished with 14 points, six assists and six rebounds.
He even caused the Sewall Centercrowd to erupt with a monster one-handed dunk on a fast break. RMU’s new president, Dr. Christopher B. Howard, was sitting courtside and went nuts. His reaction wasn’t quite Steve Ballmer-esque, but it was definitely a great sight to see. 
From a mental standpoint, Pryor seems to be the most mature of anyone on the team. He’s been called upon to fill a leadership role this season, and so far, looks to be stepping up to the plate. 
“This group of guys compete. We’ve got guys like Steven Whitley, and when Joe Hugley and Isaiah get back with us. Those guys can put the ball in the basket. I know a lot of is going to be on me, but the wealth is always shared this way.” 
2015 Colonials: A good group
The 2015 version of the Colonials were a sign of good things to come. All the talk surrounding the team has been about their positive attitude, team-first mentality and desire to get better.
It’s definitely not bullshit. 
“We saw it as soon as we got on campus in the summertime,” Toole said. “Whether it was group workouts or in the weight room, I think we brought in a group of guys that enjoy playing the game. They have a passion about playing the game. They don’t mind working hard.
“They bring a good infusion of energy into our locker room.”
Whether it was Pryor, Stewart, McConnell or even Minnie in the second half, this group wants to do whatever it will take to win, even if it means passing up on a shot or not playing a lot of minutes. 
Minnie was all smiles in pre-game warmups, giving off zero impression that he wasn’t going to play the first half as a form of discipline.
“[Minnie] did some really, really positive things for us in 17 minutes, to get eight rebounds and he was incredibly active,” Toole said. “I was really proud of how he handled the situation, and we’ll move forward as we go.” 
Defensively may be where Stewart has shown the most positive signs of growth. 
He swiped three steals, all that led to fast break layups, in a first half span. He also stayed true to his technique in the 2-3 zone, and didn’t venture off out of position. He did have one blemish when he tried to throw a behind-the-back pass to Pryor that went right into a Saint Vincent defender’s hands. But you can’t blame Kavon for being Kavon. He laughed it off. 
His shooting hasn’t improved, but with McConnell and Pryor on the wings, it doesn’t really need to. In terms of a leadership aspect, his maturity is evident. 
“With this group, it’s easy because they’re like sponges,” Stewart said. “They’re soaking everything. They’re not talking back. They’ve came in with a mindset where they don’t know anything, and they want to learn.” 
McConnell is especially mature for his youth. He was asked if his performance Tuesday night solidified his role as the starting shooting guard. 
“It’s not about making a statement,” he said. “I’m obviously trying to do whatever coach Toole tells me to do to help the team win. If it’s in the starting lineup, than that’s good.” 
Additional Notes 
— Freshmen Isaiah Still and Joe Hugley both didn’t suit up for the Colonials Tuesday night. Toole said they’re dealing with minor injuries, and have been in-and-out of practice over the course of the last month.
It was more of a precaution. There was no point in risking further injury in a exhibition matchup when Robert Morris will further need the duo for the start of the season, especially considering the unclear status of Aaron Tate. 
— Billy Giles started in place of Tate, and didn’t do too much in his first action as a Colonial. He ended with four points, five rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes of action.
Giles had trouble grasping the 2-3 zone rotations down low. There were a few times he was caught late on a slide, resulting in easy layups for Saint Vincent. He didn’t give the impression that he’s going to flourish from the beginning after making the jump from JUCO, such as Pryor did a year ago.
His four blocks were a good sign. He has an incredibly long wing-span and can jump. He may be the type of player that could really come into his own midseason after getting his feet under him for a couple months. 

–Chris Mueller

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