Robert Morris opens its doors to new arena, new era
Robert Morris has played Division I basketball for 44 years and gone to eight NCAA tournaments.
Andy Toole has been its coach for the past decade.
Yet, it almost felt like he was starting over Tuesday night, but under the best of circumstances: with an experienced team that isn’t afraid to tackle tough challenges.
Robert Morris started the season 0-3, but there is hope the opening of the $45 million UPMC Events Center on the Moon campus might lead all Colonials athletes into a new, better era of collegiate sports.
Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 4,034, Robert Morris lost to Pitt, 71-57, on Tuesday night in its first game in its new home. But the Colonials built an 18-7 lead midway through the first half and went into intermission tied 27-27. Josh Williams (12 points and five assists), Jalen Hawkins (11) and Yannis Mendy (10) played well.
Perhaps Robert Morris made progress over the past week.
The Colonials opened the season on Nov. 7 with a 67-60 loss to Marshall. Then the they faced Notre Dame, which plays in the ACC with Pitt, but lost 92-57 after trailing by 19 at halftime.
In the Pitt game, Toole liked what he saw from his team, which has two seniors and two juniors in its starting lineup. He hopes it can carry the enthusiasm from opening night into the rest of the season.
“I wish we would have been able to play a little bit better in the second half to really cap the evening off properly,” he said. “We have to continue to learn.”
The lessons learned in losses to superior teams could help his team grow, Toole said.
“They can be beneficial if you learn the lessons from them. They can be beneficial if that motivates and drives guys to do more.
“The more you put into it, the more you get out. We’ll see in the next couple days who it bothers.”
The opening of the season has been busy for the Colonials, who played three games in six days and will play Friday and Saturday against Howard and Toledo at the Men Against Breast Cancer Invitational in Toledo.
Toole likes the competition, but he wouldn’t mind stopping for a few days to put together a good practice.
“I’d like to be able to have some practices where you can really break some stuff down and get after some stuff,” he said.
“(The schedule) can be a challenge. We have some guys who have shown some flashes of really good stuff, but some of the details and connectivity takes some time to build.”
The next home game is Nov. 27 against Geneva, and he hopes to see another big crowd.
“I thought the environment was really cool,” Toole said. “I thought our students came out and supported the way we would love them to support all the time.
“This could become a great home court for us if we can get the campus and community support that I think these guys deserve.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .