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Robert Morris men are hoping to regroup for NIT

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

Admittedly, it won't be easy for Robert Morris to put behind it a disappointing Northeast Conference Tournament semifinal loss Saturday at Sewall Center.

It was a game the Colonials figured they should have won. They were the No.1 seed playing on their home court and facing an opponent they had beaten four times in their previous five meetings in postseason play.

Now the Colonials must pull themselves together mentally after a 69-60 loss dashed their hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament. The National Invitational Tournament awaits an RMU team still feeling the pinch of getting squeezed by a Mount St. Mary's team that forced the Colonials outside their comfort zone.

“I thought (the Mountaineers) were playing better than any team in this league,” RMU coach Andrew Toole said. “As soon as we got down, everybody wanted to make a 25-point play.

“We've got to stay true to what we do. You put yourself in a big hole when you don't defend well.”

The challenge facing Toole is getting his team's attention. The Colonials slumped into the media center afterward looking disinterested and sounding uninspired about their next game.

The seniors, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament as freshmen, were crushed by the upset loss. And they couldn't take comfort in knowing that the Mountaineers were riding high after putting together an eight-game win streak.

Still, guard Velton Jones couldn't believe the Colonials stubbed their toes with a realistic shot at making the tournament.

“The first time was difficult, so we knew it would be hard getting back,” Jones said. “We knew it would be a difficult

“I haven't even thought about (the NIT) yet. I'm still upset about this loss. I can't even think about anything right now.”

Toole acknowledged it'll be difficult for him to regroup. But the task of squaring away his team before the first round of the NIT will require some work.

“It's difficult to prepare a team for something less than what your team's goals were,” said Toole, who is in his third season. “It's going to take a couple of days, and we'll have to take a couple of deep breathes then come back in the gym and get to work. If someone says we have an opportunity to continue play, we better take advantage of it.”

The Colonials have been able to bounce back in the past. They lost to Mount St. Mary's in 2008 in the NEC tournament semifinals before losing, 87-81, to No.1-seed Syracuse in the opening round of the NIT.

“We have a couple of guys in the locker room who doesn't want this to be what they remember,” Toole said. “Hopefully, whoever we draw, we'll play close to our potential and see what happens from there.”

Toole is hoping the team that led the NEC in scoring defense and 3-point shooting — not the one lured into an uptempo game that took them out of their offensive rhythm — shows up in the NIT.

“They tried to run us off the 3-point line. But we just have to be patient next time,” said Anthony Myers-Pate, who led RMU with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. “We got a couple of open looks, and we didn't have to force them. We played into their hands.”

Toole figures the Colonials will have a chance in the NIT if they can avoid the mental lapse that haunted them in the second half. They trailed, 36-29, early in the second half but quickly fell behind, 56-36.

“You could just see the run coming,” Toole said. “We broke down mentally and physically. They were energized, and we were asking ourselves what happened. It's not a track meet. We want to run our sets to slow the game down.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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