Close ain’t cutting anything

Robert Morris is 2-13 on the season. Of those 13 losses, eight have come by ten points or less. RMU has lost one game in overtime (at New Mexico State), and two more (at Penn, vs. Wagner) with a chance to tie or win at the buzzer.

It’s been an excruciatingly painful way to spend a year, especially when you consider how spoiled the program has been over the years by great players and teams finding a way to win tight ballgames. RMU’s 2-8 record in games decided by ten points or less is bad, but can’t be completely unexpected in context.

Last year’s Lucky Jones, Marcquise Reed and (to an extent) David Appolon minutes have largely been replaced with freshman Matty McConnell, Isiah Still, Steven Whitley and Jordan Lester. There’s something to be said for what was lost in the experience and toughness category.

Jones, Reed and Appolon weren’t perfect, but they at least knew what they were doing and brought something to the table. Reed was an efficient scorer from all over the floor with one of the top steal rates in the country. Jones was an elite defender and a swiss army knife offensive player who could get streaky from three and got to the line about five times a game. Appolon was a reliable ball handler and solid defender.

It’s hard to say any of the freshman do anything too well. We think Matty McConnell is going to be a good shooter, but then you see he’s averaging 5.7 ppg on 30/28/77 splits and it makes you think otherwise. The same goes for Still, who does rebound at a higher rate but is also averaging 7.4 ppg on just 33/30/60 splits.

Don’t think for a second this team doesn’t miss Aaron Tate either. It’s easy to look at the losses of Reed and Jones and pinpoint as the biggest reason for RMU’s struggles. It wouldn’t be wrong, but not complete either. Tate was one of the team’s best rebounders and best interior defender. He was also one of the team’s toughest, most well-respected players. When RMU’s season was going down in shambles last year, it was Tate’s tip-in at the buzzer to help Robert Morris defeat Central Connecticut State. Without that win, Robert Morris goes on the road in the NEC semifinals instead of getting another home game.

It’s the little things like that that this team needs. A lot of people will tell you that winning close games is as much about luck as it is skill. In some ways, that’s true. A bounce here, a roll there, and Robert Morris is 7-8 instead of 2-13. Still, it can’t all be about skill; Rodney Pryor has been dominant in a lot of the games he played this year, but that dominance hasn’t translated to wins.

Like most sports debates, there’s a happy medium between advanced statistics and no statistics at all. Yes, winning close games, to an extent, is “luck”, but I truly do believe talent wins out way more often than not. Last year’s team went 10-8 in games decided by ten points or less. The year before that, the “crazy 8” team, went 17-6.

There’s nothing lucky about winning 17 close games. They won those games because Karvel Anderson was one of the 25 best players in college basketball that year, there were two ball handlers, a plethora of three point shooters and they were the best defensive team in the conference. That’s not luck. That’s being better than your opponent.

The same goes for this team. There’s not a lot that’s unlucky about losing close games. On their best day, Robert Morris is an average defensive team that goes through stretches of mental lapses. On their absolute best day, they’re an average offensive team. On a normal day, they’re really bad offensively. Outside of Pryor, there’s no one to really rely on.

Part of what made those past teams so great was their experience and toughness. Those things aren’t always mutually exclusive, but one usually does come from the other. This team does not have that luxury. They’re not experienced, and they’re not tough, either. It shows in a lot of aspects. Bad offense affects defense and vice versa. They don’t know how to close games. Situational offense hasn’t looked the best.

Experience isn’t something you buy or recruit, it’s something you develop. If this group can stick it out, it’ll pay off.

Maybe not this year, but down the road, it’ll pay off.

–Chris Cappella


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