Andrew Toole hoped his freshmen would come in and give him brief stretches of good play. If he could get two minutes of solid play at a time against Rider, he'd be content.
Toole and Robert Morris got much more than that.
Lucky Jones played a game high 29 minutes and pulled down 13 rebounds. Keith Armstrong stymied Rider's bigs and had seven rebounds. And Toole felt comfortable enough to play as many as three freshmen at once in the heart of the game.
Factor in a career high 28-point performance from Coron Williams, and Robert Morris cruised to an 83-57 win over Rider.
"The freshman showed up tonight," guard Velton Jones said. "I wasn't expecting the performance that they gave. All of them came in and contributed."
They did, and they left a positive impression on Toole.
"That's over and above what I expected from them," he said. "It solidifies a little bit of what you've been talking about for the last several weeks. This is why we do it this way."
Part of the strong performance from the freshmen was out of necessity. Lijah Thompson was saddled with early foul trouble as the two teams battled for real estate down low. Lawrence Bridges soon joined him, forcing Armstrong to play more than Toole anticipated, forcing Russell Johnson to play more at forward, and forcing Lucky Jones to play significant more minutes on the wing.
It didn't matter. Though Jones was 3-of-13 shooting, Toole praised his effort. Seven of the 13 rebounds came on the offensive end, and Jones helped keep a possession alive by launching a last-second shot, following it, and diving over the baseline to save the ball back to Thompson.
But the most impressive stretch was the stretch from the 14:47 mark of the first half to the 7:54 mark. Using nine different players, Robert Morris turned a 9-8 deficit into a 21-9 lead before Novar Gadson hit a three-pointer to stem the tide. Rider went 6:53 without a score, and Robert Morris led 40-20 at the half.
"I didn't imagine we'd play as well as we did and I didn't imagine the score would be what it was," Toole said, saying the Colonials missed just one help assignment on defense in the first half. "We were really good defensively. I'm not sure if there was another help in the first half that we didn't get to properly."
Robert Morris constantly swarmed Rider, holding them to 26.3 percent shooting in the first half and forcing 25 turnovers. Meanwhile, other players stepped up to support Williams on offense. Anthony Myers was perfect from the floor and a constant presence on the foul line, picking up 14 points and six assists. Brandon Herman scored 11 points and pulled down four rebounds. And Velton Jones struggled his way to 10 points but chipped in five assists and five steals.
But the freshmen will be the ones carrying the banner on this one. Even Darren Washington, playing limited minutes in a mop-up role, got in on the act with two points and two rebounds in three minutes. All told, the four freshmen - David Appolon missed the game with a shoulder injury - contributed 23 points, 26 rebounds, two assists, three steals, a block and just three turnovers in a combined 70 minutes.
"I think they were the key to us winning, to be honest with you," Velton Jones said.
Robert Morris kicks off five straight road games with a trip to St. Peter's on Tuesday.
"It shows what we're capable of. I was actually surprised of what we did today," Williams said. "Now that we're on the road, these are very important games."
STAY TUNED FOR MORE COVERAGE FROM ROBERT MORRIS' SEASON OPENING WIN OVER RIDER