Monday with Mueller: Five observations

Robert Morris fell to Oakland 92-74 Friday night. Staff writer Chris Mueller had five observations from that game! Pretty cool, right? Here’s what he saw, with quotes.
Robert Morris played some of its best basketball of the season until there were about four minutes left in the first half.
The Colonials were balling. Matty McConnell connected on two of his first three shots. Rodney Pryor was commanding the offense effectively. Billy Giles broke out of the gate with some monster offensive possessions early. Forced turnovers were resulting to buckets in transition……. AND THEY EVEN SAW SOME FREE THROW ATTEMPTS!
But then, for some reason, it all came to a screeching halt. Oakland erased a nine-point deficit with four minutes left in the first half to take a 40-39 lead into intermission. It carried over to the second half, the Colonials couldn’t recover. 

“I think we got a little bit ahead of ourselves offensively. We took a couple quick shots. Some out of character shots. Some turnovers in that stretch. That translated to the defensive side,” head coach Andy Toole said. “A couple of them were blowing down the floor and hanging their heads about what just happened on offense.”

He also took blame for Oakland’s late first-half run. The Robert Morris tempo may have been too fast. He also may not have had the best situational lineup on the floor. 
“I think I’ve got to manage those four minutes a little bit better,” he said. “Maybe I should’ve said, ‘We’ve done well and making some shots and getting some early offense, but maybe we want to manage this so we can go into the half with a five or six point lead.’”
Regardless, there’s still a sense of accountability the players need to take when shit hits the fan. The coaches can put them in positions to succeed. But it ultimately falls on them to step up and do it. 
Robert Morris is a 1-8 team playing primarily underclassmen. The losing has to be getting to these guys. You could tell by the looks on their faces as soon as the problems started amounting. 
The energy stopped. They went from a team playing with passion and excitement to a team looking toward the next guy to step up. Rodney Pryor couldn’t do it all himself. He finished with 35 points on 12 of 23 shooting with Oaklandcompletely keying on him. 
“[Kay] Felter went on a 9-0 run by himself. A couple of them were blowing down the floor and hanging their heads about what just happened on offense,” Toole said. “Now, he’s running down your back and getting into the lane and creating stuff. That’s a mental toughness thing I think we’ve got to get better at.”
Oakland‘s Max Hooper finished with 24 points off the bench on 8 of 17 shooting. This is the same guy that shot 6 of 12 against Robert Morris in the NIT with St. Johns two years back.
Robert Morris had to have keyed him in the defensive game plan. Yet, a majority of his shot attempts came on open looks when players failed to rotate over. 
Toole made a comparison out of Hooper that some of his players can take with them.  
“Hooper, who was 8-for-17 in 29 minutes, probably could have taken 117 three’s and look exactly the same from number one to number 117. He shoots the same shot each and every time. He was the 6 for 12 from 3. That’s his reputation.
“There’s guys on our team that have reputations as a shooter. You’ve got to shoot the same shot every time, have the same footwork every time and be in the condition to be able to get those shots and make them at a high rate.”
Matty McConnell and Isaiah Still finished a combined 5 of 23 from the floor and 3 of 14 from three-point range. 
Billy Giles was one of the lone bright spots on the night for Robert Morris. He posted his third double-digit scoring effort in four games, and finished with 16 points and 10 boards in 31 minutes. 
Elijah Minnie was sick and didn’t dress, and Aaron Tate continued to nurse a lower body injury. The coaching staff prepared in the coming days for Giles to start. 
He took full advantage of the opportunity.
A few weeks back, Toole told me that Giles was the type of player that needed to get a feel for the situation around him….whether it was a drill-to-drill, practice-to-practice or game-to-game basis. Once he went through something a few times, he got his feet underneath him and comfortability began to kick in.
Then he’d really fly. 
Over the last six games, we’ve seen that from him. Saturday afternoon was another step, if not leap, in the right direction.
“He’s really putting in the work in practice where he’s going at that game speed that we talk about all the time. You can see him becoming more comfortable and more confident from where he has the ability to score from.”
Robert Morris saw its shooting percentage drop from 44 percent in the first half to 30 in the second half. The Colonials shot 6 of 26 from downtown, and 18 of 32 from the charity stripe. 
With an undermanned roster, fatigue could’ve been a factor. But now nine games into the season, how long is it going to take before this team can last a consistent 40 minutes?
“You have to get used to playing that hard for that long,” Toole said. “We had guys that really emptied their tank in the first 18 minutes of the half. Well now, you’ve got to be capable mentally and physicaly to come on the floor and do that same exact thing again in the second half. 
“I think if you’re not making shots, it gets difficult.”
In years prior, it’s been way worse in terms of injuries and players leaving the team.The crazy eight weren’t this fatigued late in games. Obviously, Toole runs a crazy conditioning program that I definitely couldn’t partake in. (haha) 
Why are they so tired? 
Maybe it’s because they’re riding those hoverboards around campus all the time and not walking anymore. Kidding….But really, it’s going to be important in NEC play to last late in games. 
This team hasn’t shown an ability to do that. 

–Chris Mueller

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