Tuesday, February 19, 2013

RMCMB climbs their way to the top of the NEC

Besides being great players,
Coron and Treadwell are great friends. 
The Robert Morris Men's Basketball team is by far my favorite basketball team. Shooting guard Coron Williams is one of my best friends, and fan favorite Treadwell Lewis is one of my roommates. All of the players on the team are great guys, and the team represents my school in a positive way which is something I take great pride in. I realize that I am biased and it is tough for me to write about them objectively, but anybody following them this season would have to agree their story is quite compelling. 

To say this season has been a rollercoaster for the Colonials would be an understatement. There isn't much this Robert Morris team hasn't faced. The Colonials ended last season with a heartbreaking loss in the Northeast Conference championship game to LIU in Brooklyn. However despite that loss, the Colonials still had one of the brightest young minds in the game in Head Coach Andy Toole, and a roster that was returning a ton of talent. The only player the Colonials were losing was Lawrence Bridges, and they were adding size in transfer Vaughn Morgan, and freshman Stephan Hawkins, and a dynamic scorer in transfer Karvel Anderson. When you combine that with the fact that the Colonials were returning All NEC Point Guard Velton Jones, veteran forwards Lucky Jones, and Russell Johnson, sharpshooter Coron Williams, and and two big men ready to break out in Mike McFadden and Lijah Thompson, the future was looking bright. 

Things don't always go according to plan though. The first turn of bad luck was when Lijah tore his ACL in the preseason. It didn't help that developing big man Keith Armstrong had undergone microfracture surgery on his knee over the summer. Those two injuries left the Colonials thin in the front court. How would the Colonials respond? At first it wasn't pretty. RMU was blown out by Rider in a game they expected to win on the road to open the season and embarrassed in the Preseason NIT by Lehigh, before scoring their first victory over Fordham. The team was still figuring each other out and getting used to the new pieces. Russell Johnson was missing from the lineup. But they knew they were better than that. 

When Karvel is on, good luck stopping him
After going on the road and taking a strong Xavier team to the wire before coming up just short, the Colonials went on to win 7 of their next 8, including spirited home victories against a previously unbeaten Ohio team, and a dominating performance against rival Duquesne. Velton Jones was still the playmaker everyone knew he was, Russell Johnson was playing some of the best basketball of his career, Dave Appolon stepped up and turned in some phenomenal defensive performances. Karvel Anderson turned in the most impressive performance during this streak with a 28 point outburst against Ohio, when he hit all ten shots from the field including a perfect eight for eight from three point range. The streak came to an end when RMU went into Fayetteville and nearly upset Arkansas of the Southeast Conference. Surely this would give them confidence and they would manhandle the Northeast Conference right? Wrong. 

RMU opened conference play with home losses to Central Connecticut State and Bryant. Not exactly what they had in mind as they embarked on their journey to win the NEC. The team wasn't shooting well, or playing the defense they knew they were capable of, Vaughn quit the team, and the injuries began to pile up. Russell Johnson hurt his ankle, Anthony Myers-Pate suffered a concussion, Karvel injured his foot. Coron and Stephan are the only regulars that have played in every game this season. The doubters began to wonder out loud whether or not the Colonials would even be able to compete for the conference crown, let alone win it. 

Velton hits a game-winner against LIU
But the Colonials didn't panic, they simply regrouped and went about their business reeling off six straight victories. Than another setback came as the team traveled to Brooklyn. In the first game of their road trip Velton went down with a shoulder injury and didn't return as the Colonials lost to St. Francis NY. With a rematch of last years NEC title game against LIU coming on Saturday the team pulled together and put forth an outstanding overall effort. Velton played through injury and hit one of his patented game-winning floaters to send the team back home victorious.

After an overtime win over Wagner, a road trip to Connecticut where the team lost a tough one to Quinnipiac and escaped Sacred Heart with a victory despite a  late Shane Gibson led rally, and some help from other teams around the NEC, the Colonials now find themselves alone atop the NEC standings with a record of 10-4 in conference and 18-9 overall. 

It hasn't been easy, but the team is right where they want to be as they head down the stretch run. This team can be very special if they are able to get everybody healthy and they are playing at the level they are capable of heading into the conference tournament, or they could struggle with the same bad luck and inconsistencies that have crippled them at times this season and fall well short of their expectations. But after all they have been through together to get to this point, are you really going to doubt them? 

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