Robert Morris’ two wins on the season aren’t incredibly impressive.
But the first, a blowout against Division II Mount Aloysius, and the second, a victory against a Mississippi Valley State program that hasn’t won 10 or more games since 2012, did show two extreme positives.
Akron transfer Josh Williams is lighting it up from 3-point range while Malik Petteway is off to a great start less than one year removed from a serious injury.
Williams’ M.O. was that of a sharpshooter, and he has not disappointed. After an up-and-down start, Williams tied an NCAA record with 15 3-pointers against Mount Aloysius, then followed that up with a 4 of 8 game from downtown against MVSU.
There’s no denying the fact that Williams is a gunner. He came out extremely aggressive in the season opener at USC – maybe a little too aggressive at times – but still finished with a decent 7 of 17 performance.
Williams’ aggressiveness is fine by me. In games against Division I opponents, he’s shooting 8 of 23 from downtown. The rest of the team is 14 of 64. Including the Mount Aloysius contest, Williams is 23 of 48. The rest of the team is 21 of 82, good for a 25 percent clip. That would make RMU one of the 30 worst 3-point shooting teams in the country.
Which is why Petteway’s 26 point performance in last week’s victory against MVSU is important for the team moving forward. Petteway isn’t always going to shoot 10 of 11 from the field (although it would be nice), but his presence brings a delicate balance to Robert Morris’ offense.
The idea that Petteway would have to shoulder a large load of this offense is not surprising, and the fact that he’s good at it isn’t surprising either. The senior looks every bit the part of his 6-foot-8, 240 pound frame. He has a legitimate back to the basket game with rebounding numbers that rank him nationally on KenPom.
The performances of Williams and Petteway on their own are impressive and encouraging, but I’m sure Andy Toole would love to find some offensive balance.
Matty McConnell, Koby Thomas and Jon Williams have all had slow offensive starts to the season. Thomas, the reigning NEC Freshman of the Year, did play well against USC but has struggled since and is shooting just 38.6 percent from the field this season. Even more of a concern are his three free throw attempts in four games (all misses).
Jon Williams and McConnell are both shooting below 31 percent from the field this season. Jon, like his brother, is more of a 3-point shooter. One year removed from an outstanding freshman season (he shot 43 percent from 3), Jon deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The poor shooting starts do not define the three above players, nor does it exempt other guys from this conversation. It’s a small sample size. At some points, it’s fair to expect that shots will start falling. Plus, all of these guys are still playing winning basketball.
Thomas is the team’s leading rebounder (7.8 per game) and shot blocker. The sophomore looks tremendous on the defensive end and does a great job moving without the ball on offense. Despite his shooting struggles, I am more impressed with Thomas this season. He just looks…. Better. Should that be surprising? No.
McConnell has taken his Swiss-army-knife skills up a notch this season. He recorded 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals against USC, just ridiculous numbers for a 6-foot-2 guard. Jon Williams is also averaging 5.5 assists per game.
All of this is just a long-winded attempt to say that Josh Williams and Petteway have put together great starts – which has helped the team win now and gives RMU extra ammo in conference play – but hopefully they will not have to shoulder the load much longer. Robert Morris, like most teams four games into a season, is looking for balance.
The promising starts for Petteway and Josh Williams are just that – promising starts.