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Junior Matty McConnell grows into leadership role for Robert Morris men's basketball

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 10:21 p.m.
Robert Morris' Matty McConnell battles LIU Brooklyn's Julius van Sauers for a rebound during the first half Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, at Sewall Center.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris' Matty McConnell battles LIU Brooklyn's Julius van Sauers for a rebound during the first half Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, at Sewall Center.

Matty McConnell's major at Robert Morris is organizational leadership. Maybe the junior guard can earn some credits on the court this season.

A starter since his freshman year, McConnell this season will be the top scoring threat on a young and inexperienced team. He also will be the de facto leader.

“It's a role I'm still learning, but I'm pretty comfortable in it,” McConnell said. “I try to always make sure everyone's on the same page. I try to be as vocal as I can.”

Coach Andrew Toole said, with all the playing time McConnell has logged, it's sometimes easy to forget he is still just a junior with evolving skills.

Last season, McConnell (Chartiers Valley) did not score in four of his first 14 games. By March, he had found his shooting touch and scored a career-high 20 points against Long Island Brooklyn and 19 against Mount St. Mary's.

“Sometimes, that's when guys really figure it out, toward the end of their sophomore year,” Toole said. “We've been trying do to some things with him in practice where we're forcing him to be aggressive, forcing him to make plays, forcing him to be a vocal guy out there, keeping people organized. He's responded well, and I think he'll continue to grow into that role.”

McConnell and sophomore guard Dachon Burke are the only returning players with significant Division I experience for the Colonials, who will play at least eight home games at PPG Paints Arena this season while the school builds a $50 million facility to replace Sewall Center. The Colonials will play their first eight games on the road.

Burke missed the Oct. 30 exhibition game against St. Vincent with what Toole said was a lower-body injury. Last season, Burke played in 33 games (17 starts) and was third on the team with 7.6 points per game.

With so many newcomers, the Colonials might need a few games to find their offensive identity. Junior Malik Petteway has the size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) to get some things done in the lane and averaged 8.9 points last season at Northwest Florida State.

Two graduate transfers at forward will provide some inside help.

Xavier Williams (6-9, 225) came from Tennessee State and also played at Holmes Community College and Alabama A&M. Ronnie Gombe (6-8, 240) arrived from Canisius.

After averaging 7.3 points per game last season, McConnell's offensive game remains a work in progress.

“My first two years, I was more of a knockdown shooter and if I didn't have my shot, I would swing it out,” McConnell said. “This year, I've worked on my game to be able to drive to the hoop and feed our big guys when they're around the basket.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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