Lack of mental toughness, consistency hurting Colonials

Several factors can be attributed to Robert Morris’ unexpected 1-8 start to the 2015 season.

There’s the blaring consistently inconsistent play, and the constant defensive breakdowns. There’s been head-scratching moments from older players that you’d think are well beyond those kind of mistakes.

The potential has been clearly visible in all nine of the Colonials’ outings thus far. We’ve seen Elijah Minnie go for 29 points on 11 of 18 shooting as a power forward. We’ve seen Isaiah Still average 29 minutes per game, second on the team, as a freshman and steadily improve. We’ve seen Rodney Pryor explode in second halves and develop into a top-tier scorer within the Northeast Conference. He’s already broken the 30-point scoring margin as of last weekend. Billy Giles has been an early-season success story, too.

Though potential is only potential if nothing amounts from it.

Let’s not completely jump to conclusions. This is a really young team, and it’s going to take time.  But with NEC play nearing its tip-off, the clock is starting to tick. After nine games and 35-plus practices, at this point, progression should be at least slightly visible.

“I’d like to attribute it to some new guys finding their way, but I think after practices and summer workouts and all the things we’ve gone through. Yeah, this is different,” Toole said after the Bucknell game on Nov. 18. “But those new guys never want to be new guys on offense. Everybody remembers how to shoot. Everybody remembers how to break their man down or go one-on-one. But then on the defensive side of the floor, ‘Coach, I’m just a young guy.

“If you want the responsibility and you want the floor time, then you’ve got to show accountability on both ends of the floor.”

Still has shown that accountability, as seen by his court time. Minnie has flashed the accountability in year two. Matty McConnell and Jordan Lester are working their way to that point, as well.

You develop that accountability in practice. It translates to the game.  

“It’s about getting in the gym and getting extra shots. Finishing at full speed.  Footwork catches at full speed,” Toole said. “Shooting on the move at full speed so that when you get in those games and you’re a little bit fatigued, you can still step up and make shots.”

Andre Frederick hasn’t. Steven Whitley hasn’t, reflected in his 1.6 scoring average in 11.9 minutes per game. Whitley was talked about just as much as Still in the preseason,  but has progressed at a much slower pace. Kavon Stewart, at times, has played erratically and it has resulted in costly mistakes.

Stewart’s role is too vital to the success of this team. The Colonials need him to lead, especially by example.

“It’s not always the new guys that are breaking down,” Toole said after the Bucknell game. “I think we cut it to six, and Kavon had a big breakdown that goes for a three-point play that is just a backbreaker. Just getting a little undisciplined, a little overanxious and not being detailed.”

Then he adds a line that could not only describe Stewart, but most Colonials at most times.,

“Just kind of flying around and hoping for the best,” he said.

The athletic ability is there. Without question, this team is as athletic, if not more, than any of the top contenders in the NEC. It comes down to developing a mental toughness that will keep the them from spiraling out of games. It’s a state of mind that won’t let Oakland escape a nine-point deficit with 4:07 left in the first half to lead by one at halftime. It’s the same state of mind that won’t let Oakland continue shoot relatively open looks to exit the Sewall Center with a blowout. Things started snowballing offensively, and the Colonials couldn’t recover. They let Oakland guard Khalil Felder go a nine-point run by himself.

“A couple of them were just blowing it down the floor and hanging their heads about what just happened on offense,” Toole said. “Now [Felder] is 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.”

“You have to get used to playing that hard for that long. We’ve got some guys that really, really emptied their tank….You’ve got to be capable mentally and physically to come on the floor and do that same exact thing in the second half.”

The mental aspect is just as important as the physical one. Aaron Tate’s absence has hurt them in that capacity. He leads by example and is as even keeled as they come. It needs to come from Pryor, and Stewart, and Minnie; which can transcend to McConnell, Still, Lester and Whitley.

The Colonials have four games left until NEC play, including a big matchup with a cross-town opponent in Duquesne on December 19.

We’ll see when the progression kicks in.

–Chris Mueller


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