The Robert Morris Colonials (13-9, NEC 7-2) fell to the Seahawks of Wagner (14-6, NEC 7-2) 77-64 at PPG Paints Arena in a battle of first place in the NEC.
With both teams having the same in conference record, both teams were itching to show who was top dog in the NEC.
Wagner started off strong, winning tip-off and getting a foul call on Koby Thomas within the first 16 seconds of the game. Also, taking the first of what would be many offensive rebounds from a missed foul shot.
However, the Colonials came back quickly, Matty McConnel answering with a three-point basket of his own. That did not mean that the Seahawks were going to be giving up anytime soon.
Koby Thomas who had quickly gotten is first foul in the beginning of the game made up for it, hitting his own three-point shot, giving RMU an early lead of 8-3. Wagner answered with a big block, which changed not only the pace of the game but the score. Trying both teams at eight each.
Robert Morris, not happy with the change of the game, quickly fought to change it. Two turnovers for Wagner means another eight points for Robert Morris. Forcing Wagner’s Head Coach, Bashir Mason to call his first time out of the game.
A scare for Colonials fans came early as star freshman Koby Thomas took a spill in the middle part of the first half, walking gingerly off the court after laying on the court for several minutes before he was able to get up and walk off the court on his own. Thomas came back later in the first half, seeming to be fine.
Both teams were playing superb defense as well as looking for every possible shot on offense. But the Colonials were still preserving to be on top.
With eight minutes left in the first half, the score was 20-16. Robert Morris’ head coach, Andrew Toole, could be heard from the bench reminding his team “don’t settle” but to give the play a chance to work to find the best possible shot.
Leondre Washington took this opportunity to make his presence on the court be known by draining a deep corner three making the score 26-18 with five minutes left in the first half. Wagner was not out of this game yet. The Colonials confidence seemed to get the better of them for a second, allowing Washington to have his pocket picked, and Wagner to get an easy layup, closing the point differential to only four points with two minutes left in the first half.
Thomas wasn’t willing to let the Seahawks close in, answered with a big dunk of his own, but letting his attitude get the better of him, baiting his Wagner opponent, causing the officials to head to the replay monitor and a frustrated Matty McConnell to queston his teammates actions.
Players for each team was called for a technical foul, Koby Thomas for Robert Morris, and JoJo Cooper for Wagner. Both players remained on the court. With an eventful first half, the ending score was 42-32, giving the Colonials a comfortable ten-point lead to end the first half with. But with the way both teams have been playing, it’s still anyone’s game.
Coming out of halftime, the Seahawks energy level seemed to have risen ten degrees while the Colonial’s seemed to just stay at an even boil, causing the Seahawks to tie the game within the first three minutes of the second half.
“We weren’t able to sustain 40 minutes of the way you need to play in order to beat a team like that,” said Toole.
McConnell’s frustration was evident on his face, finally taking matters into his own and hands and taking a shot of his own, scoring the first points of the second half for RMU. This didn’t stop Wagner however, blocking Thomas and then causing a turnover. This ensured the Seahawks to be able to take a short lead. The Wagner bench seemed to be the life of the party, their energy through the roof, while the Colonial bench was seemingly silent in comparison.
With 14 minutes left in the second half, the Colonials and the Seahawks were tied, but the Colonials seemed to be in a panic, while the Seahawks were thriving. Toole was looking anything but pleased with his team.
“They (Wagner) certainly increased their ball pressure, they started switching some of their ball screens a little bit more, they caught our ball moving slow, unfortunately, a little bit, and they were more urgent. Our decisions seemed a little bit slower. Some of the looks we got in the second weren’t bad looks, we just did not make them. You’ve got to be able to finish around the rim, there were so many layups, five, six, seven layups you have to be able to finish in contact with the possibility of a bump. You have to go in there with the intentions to finish the basket,” said Toole.
Robert Morris’ defense was falling apart at the seams; every player constantly looking to score, but none looking to stop Wagner from scoring. Washington especially being watched by the Wagner defense. Washington being personally pressured by Wagner’s Chase Freeman, making this matchup freshman on freshman, both fighting to prove their worth.
11 Minutes left in the second half and RMU was down by five, the score 53-48. The five on the court for Robert Morris was starting to become agitated, but none of them seemed to know how to fix the situation, only knowing that their defensive need to be better, but not knowing how to improve. The bench of the Colonials still seemed to be quiet except for the barking of Toole.
The Colonials which had once seemed so confident were now like mice on their own court. Forgetting how to play their game on their court. They were no longer controlling the pace of the game, but instead just forced to keep up, resulting, in turnover after turnover.
When the media timeout came with seven minutes left in the second half the score was 59-48, and an 11 point lead for the Seahawks.
And suddenly the momentum came, and a three-pointer and two fouls called in the favor of Robert Morris.
The Colonial bench seemed to have been given some new life, looking like they wanted to be a competitor in this game for the first time since the second half started. But everyone in the crowd was asking themselves the same question: would the momentum stay?
Every step the Colonials took forward in closing the point difference, the Seahawks prevailed. Never once showing any signs of letting RMU sneak back into the game. Coach Toole’s only advice to his team was to keep attacking the rim, in hopes with one minute left a more traditional three-point play could salvage what was looking like was going to go down in the books as a loss for the RMU team.
The final score of this addition of Robert Morris at the Paint Can was a losing one for Robert Morris, 77-64. The Colonial’s lack of defense not being able to dig them out of the hole they had dug themselves.
“We don’t have any of that built up scar tissue, so on a daily basis, we don’t necessarily understand why we’re practicing hard, or maybe why it takes 40 minutes, and why the details matter so much because we haven’t really been hurt by it. Today we got hurt by it. We played an excellent 20 minutes and then I think we let our guard down a little bit” said Toole.
The leaders of the game were Matty McConnell with 19 points and Leondre Washington with 20 points. The next game for the Colonials is Thursday, February 1 at 7 pm at PPG Paints, taking Arena when they battle Mount Saint Mary’s.