Four observations: Robert Morris shows its resiliency, but there’s work to be done

Photo courtesy RMU Athletics
Robert Morris erased a 16-point halftime deficit to nearly knock off Penn at the storied Palestra in Philadelphia, but a missed shot by Rodney Pryor with 3.2 seconds remaining gave the Quakers a 76-75 win. Here are four observations from the game:
Robert Morris’ 2-3 zone was exposed defensively in the first half by a sound passing team in Penn. The Quakers shot 50 percent from the floor, in large part because the majority of their attempts came on wide open looks. 
“They had one late where we have to switch out on high hands, we talked about that for a week leading up to this game,” coach Andy Toole said. “We have to go out and execute that to make the difference. The difference is in the detail and Penn was obviously more detailed for longer than we were tonight.”
Penn coach Steve Donahue executed a solid gameplan in attacking the high post, drawing two defenders and kicking it out to a wide open shooter on the wing. Forward Sam Jones finished 5-of-12 from three to lead Penn with 21 points. 
“We had some breakdowns,” Toole said. “Elijah spent the last 12 minutes of the first half on the bench. He’s a big piece to us being effective on the floor. We had some odd lineups out there, and some guys that are hoping that people miss. At this level, you can’t hope that they miss, you have to make people miss.”
It’s almost scary how good Elijah Minnie has the potential to be, and how vital he is to this Robert Morris team.
Things were relatively even midway through the first half until Minnie, after slamming home a monster alley-oop from Kavon Stewart, said something he shouldn’t have to a Penn player and was issued a technical. 
The foul forced Minnie to the bench for the final 12 minutes of the half, sparking a 29-13 Penn run that created the 16-point first half deficit. 
I was on the other end of the court and didn’t catch the exchange of words, and honestly thought it was from him hanging on the rim. Minnie’s one mental lapse proved costly for Robert Morris.
“That technical foul really put me in a bad place,” Minnie said. “From then on, if you look at everything that happened, they went on runs when I wasn’t in there. I take blame partly for that for what I got the technical foul for.
“I said some stuff to the player and the ref heard it. I blame myself for that because I should’ve been smarter. They went on runs when I wasn’t in there, and they could’ve really used me on the defensive end.” 
You can’t help but notice the accountability in Minnie’s answer. 
Minnie, along with Pryor and Stewart, fueled a 20-4 second half run that pushed Robert Morris to take the lead in the final minutes. He also relayed a message in the locker room to his teammates that helped spark the second-half run. 
“Right before we went out, I told everyone to just breathe,” Minnie said. “All the nerves that we had in the first half, they were gone. I told them, ‘Let’s go out there and just play Robert Morris basketball.’ We went out there and did our best.”
Isaiah Still, Steven Whitley and Billy Giles didn’t necessarily start their first seasons at Robert Morris the way they wanted to. The trio didn’t make much of an impact, combining for three points and five rebounds collectively. 
Whitley saw his minutes lessened, partially because Still was in the lineup after returning from injury. Giles was among the first players off the bench for the Colonials, but played hesitant after driving on one of his first touches.
Andre Frederick, starting in place of Aaron Tate, didn’t score. He ended with three boards and an assist on the stat line. He only saw two minutes of action in the second half. 
“One of the things we talk about all the time is how hard it is to win a Division I game, how hard it is to compete in a Division I game,” Toole said. “I think we had a couple guys out there, at that point in time, that were feeling sad, or sorry for themselves, or didn’t understand the intensity that was necessary.”
If there were any questions about Aaron Tate’s productivity after undergoing surgery a few weeks ago for a lower body injury, they were answered Friday night. 
After gradually returning to practice, Tate came off the bench to contribute eight points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. He was the typical force inside the paint the Colonials were used to, and played his part in attempting to slow down 6’11 Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry.
Tate isn’t in complete game shape yet and had issues running in transition, but overall, his progress made is a positive sign. The team expects him to get healthier as the season goes on.
“There telling us it’s going to improve. He thinks its improving, he feels better and better everyday. This was probably the most intense workload that he’s put on his lower body. His recovery has been good. He still gets sore, but he’s going to be feeling better when he’s getting in better condition.” 
–Chris Mueller

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