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Starkey: No shame for Robert Morris

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris' Lucky Jones cradles his head after fouling out in the waning moments of the 88-71 loss to Mount St. Mary's in the NEC championship game Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Sewall Center.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris fans watch as Mount St. Mary's players celebrate their 88-71 win over the Colonials in the NEC championship game Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at Sewall Center.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris' Kavon Stewart is forced to alter his shot attempt by Mount St. Mary's Sam Prescott during the NEC championship game Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Sewall Center.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris fans watch as Mount St. Mary's players celebrate their 88-71 win over the Colonials in the NEC championship game on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at Sewall Center.

It might have been the most emotional post-game scene — any sport — I've witnessed since the Pitt football team beat West Virginia, 13-9, and robbed the Mountaineers of a trip to the national championship.

This was on a lesser scale nationally but an equal plane emotionally after Mount St. Mary's deprived Robert Morris of a dream trip to the NCAA Tournament with an 88-71 victory at Sewall Center.

Just like in Morgantown that night seven years ago, the losing coach spoke to the media as cheers from the winning locker room provided a painful backdrop.

RMU coach Andy Toole barely could finish when asked to encapsulate a season — one that will send the Colonials to the NIT — that saw him lose six players and play since January with only eight.

“It's been incredibly rewarding,” Toole said “The eight guys that are in the locker room right now, that are crushed, were incredible to coach. The efforts they gave on a daily basis really didn't show tonight, and that's what's so upsetting because they deserved better.”

Toole's voice trailed off. The jubliant screams from the Mount St. Mary's locker room grew louder. Toole gathered himself and added, “They deserved better.”

Before Toole took the podium, three of his players — Lucky Jones, Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate — sat with heads bowed. Their comments were barely audible.

“Unfortunately,” Anderson said, “they were the better team.”

Minutes later, the Mount St. Mary's players provided a striking contrast, six of them crammed at the table around their coach, Jamion Christian, who had the cut-down net draped around his neck.

Truth be told, RMU helped the Mount St. Mary's cause by completely losing its mind. You've heard of Bo Ryan's swing offense? RMU ran the fling offense: Fling it at first chance. They refused to run sets, their guards often taking off on ill-fated, outnumbered dashes to the basket. It was almost as if they were trying to out-do a highfalutin Mount St. Mary's team noted for its “mayhem” defense.

“It's one against three every time,” Jones said. “It wasn't working for us.”

The best example, maybe, was when RMU cut a 20-point deficit to 11 with about 13 minutes left. That's when Anderson took a rushed 3-pointer that barely grazed the rim.

“We wanted to make a 10-point play,” Toole said, “and those don't exist.”

If they did, Mount St. Mary's would have made about 10 of them. It shot a ridiculous 69 percent (18 of 26) from the field in the first half, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range, and 6 of 7 from the free-throw line. It shredded RMU's 2-3 zone, but Toole said it would have been pointless to come out of it because his players were being beaten one-on-one even within the parameters of the zone.

“They just spread us so thin,” he said. “I'm not sure what defense you can switch to that's going to stop people from scoring one-on-one.”

So it's off to the NIT for RMU, but that shouldn't detract too much from a fabulous story. Toole, now 0-3 in Northeast Conference title games, had to drag in anyone he could find to fill out practices. That included student-managers. Yet Robert Morris kept winning. They were a testament to team.

Toole said it well at halftime of the NEC semifinal when he was asked about his leading scorer, Anderson, still not having a point through a game-and-a-half of the tourney.

“That's OK,” Toole said. “That's why it's a team sport. If it was tennis or golf, we'd be in trouble. Good thing it's a team sport.”

Did any other team in the country have only eight players? Had RMU won, Toole might have been in the conversation behind Wichita State's Gregg Marshall for second-best coaching job in the country.

As it was, though, there was little conversation to be had. Barely even any words.

“I just wish we would have played better,” Toole said “It's just disappointing.”

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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