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ROBERT MORRIS 59 - KENTUCKY 57

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“This is probably the greatest consolation prize you could ever ask for, and it was magnified.”

After losing to Mount St. Mary's in the NEC semifinal round, head coach Andy Toole and his regular season conference champs Robert Morris got the NIT nod, and a chance to dance with last year's National Champs, the Kentucky Wildcats.

And they won.

With a capacity crowd that rose to decibels that would put a rock concert to shame, a national television audience and one of the game's best coaches on the other side as the back drop, the Colonials put on a heroic effort, and knocked off last year's champs 59-57 at Sewall Center Tuesday night.

It was the first time a power six conference school played at the Sewall Center and the first time Kentucky (21-12) lost to a mid-major since Moon Township-native John Calipiari's first year, in 2008, when they fell to VMI.

“We deserved to be where we were and they deserved to win this game,” said Calipari. “It is a shot in the arm and I am happy for them.”

RMU opened up the game with all intentions of business, going on a 10-0 run highlighted by a Lucky Jones steal off of Archie Goodwin at the baseline. Jones drove the length of the court and scored an and-1 layup, forcing a Kentucky timeout with just three minutes expired in the game.

Lucky Jones finished the game with a team-best 15 points, going a near-perfect 4 of 5 from the field in just 18 minutes of play.

It took until the 15:15 mark for Kentucky to score its first points of the game, a Jarrod Polson baseline jumper that made it a 10-2 RMU advantage.

“You only dream about things like this until it happens,” Lucky Jones said after the game. “I knew I couldn't think negative out there. Just think you can hit those shots and you will.”

Kentucky, who came back from down 11 points with just under 4 minutes left, had a chance at the win off of a Kyle Wiltjer wide-open 3-point attempt at the buzzer with RMU up two, but the shot rimmed in and out.  

Center Mike McFadden gave the Colonials the two-point advantage with 7 seconds left, sinking two free throws after being fouled on a tip-in attempt.  

“I know Mike has a lot of heart,” said Velton Jones about the big free throws. “I had no doubt that he was going to make both of them.”

The heart and dedication came from complete exhaustion, which was the message Andy Toole sent to his players just before the game.

“I told the guys to play till exhaustion,” the coach said. “It doesn't speak to how much those guys were willing to win that game. For seniors to put all of that on the line like that, it was just a terrific win for not only our program but for our kids as well.”

Robert Morris shot 20 of 44 (45.5%) from the field and, despite pulling down just 19 rebounds, had 13 second chance points to the Wildcats 9, with 20 points in the paint.

“They are a good defensive team, but they are not a great defensive team,” said Velton Jones, who finished with 8 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds. “We knew we could exploit them a little bit with certain penetration spots, and using the baseline.”

Kentucky used an 8-0 run late in the game to tie things up thanks to a flagrant foul called on Lucky Jones, who arm-tackled Goodwin as he was en route for a breakaway layup with three minutes left. After a review, Jones was ejected from the game and Goodwin made true with two free throws, and an Alex Poythress tip-in tied the game at 53.

Goodwin led all scorers with 18 points, going 5 of 8 from the field and a perfect 8 of 8 from the charity stripe, while Poythress finished with just 6 points on 3 of 7 shooting.  Kentucky, as a team, shot better than RMU at 21 of 40 (52.5%).

“We got you, Luck',” said Velton Jones about the feeling after losing Lucky Jones for the final three minutes of the game. “We had to do it for Lucky, he's been battling for us all year and for him to get kicked out of a game like this, I knew he was hurt. He put us on his back all year and we did the same for him.”

The Colonials had the game tied two more points after the ejection but never surrendered the lead.

“For them to be able to come here and for us to get a victory, this is just great," said Jones. It is a great thing for the university. I don't know, this is just crazy. This is crazy.”

Coming at 'em Hard
Maybe the most physical team Calipari saw this year, Robert Morris was a relentless force from start-to-finish that completely scrapped the mindset of a long-range game, and instead attacked the paint and Kentucky big men all night long.

“Let me say this, Robert Morris played a great game,” Calipari said. “They said our guys cannot withstand their physical toughness and that is what they did. They played a physical, tough, hard-nosed basketball game. We were down 10-0 and the game got too rough. It got too rough. Guys couldn't play in the game. This was a hard game.”

The Colonials were on the winning end of 7 charge calls, including one taken by Keith Armstrong late in the game that prevented Kentucky from taking a lead on a breakaway Goodwin layup.

“We wanted to show we had no fear, that we were playing Kentucky,” said Velton Jones. “During the game we knew we could be physical with them.  They were tall but not physically big.  We wanted to pressure them and show them that we were tough and physical.”

Jones was the assist man on an incredible dribble-drive through 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-7 Poythress, split the two and, while in mid-air, kicked the ball to a cutting McFadden on the baseline for a dunk, giving RMU a two-point advantage with just under two minutes left in the game.

“You can't guard everything,” Toole said.  “We felt like they were going to takeaway threes and that is what team's did to us all year.  When you take away threes, dribble-penetration is going to be there.  We thought we could take advantage with that and with guys peeling off and helping, we thought we would have the three, but they left the dribble-penetration open.”
Photo by Justin Berl
The Colonials went a perfect 9 of 9 from the field in the 2nd half, forcing 7 fouls, with 5 of them in the paint.

“They attacked us,” said a somber Goodwin.  “They played a good game.  Give them credit.”

Biggest Win Ever
The Colonials capped off what was easily a benchmark, milestone win for a program that hadn't defeated a power six conference school since 1990 in a win over Texas A&M.  

It was also the first time RMU ever hosted a power six school.

I've been here (Moon Township and Robert Morris) a long time,” said Moon native Calipari. “If we were going to go on the road, and help a program, I said let's go help Robert Morris, let's help them. This is a shot in the arm for them and they deserved to win this game. If we would have won at the buzzer that would have been a shame. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it have been a shame? Because we didn't deserve to win that game.”

Robert Morris came close earlier this year, almost knocking off Arkansas on the road, losing by five, as well as a two-point setback to Xavier which was also on the road. 

“This can do a ton of things to be honest,” said Toole. “During the course of the year we had a chance to win at Xavier. We played Arkansas and lost by five. What we talked about after the Arkansas game, we said eventually we are going to break through against these teams and earn that win you worked for.”

Russell Johnson, who finished the game with 14 points and 5 rebounds, talked about the idea of getting a chance to play Kentucky.

“As soon as we found out we were playing them, we knew that if we came out and played hard like we do, they can't beat us. We had to have confidence in ourselves and our gameplan.”

What a Crowd
A record 3,444 attended Tuesday night's game at Sewall Center. Fans squeezed into the bleachers and on the sidelines as, quite literally, no room was available anywhere near the court.

“It was just great,” said Johnson. “All I could do was look at the crowd and just... wow, with the crowd like that.”

“The game ended up coming down to the wire so it was a great thing for their fans,” Calipari said.

The students rushed the court after the game.

“That was a really cool thing,” said Jones. “Seeing the fans come out like that and support us and all on the court celebrating the win. Wow.”

Calipari Clips
Always a great quote, Kentucky coach John Calipari talked about Kentucky basketball, Moon Township and Robert Morris.

“Never in my career did I surrender to save guys, to help guys like I did this year and it never works. We might have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. Kind of like my first year when we had all of those players. We might be a little young but the guys coming back are going to have a hard time.”

“The only good news is, because we have this group coming in, they are not going to be No. 1 in the country because they are going to say, 'Maybe you can't do it with young guys.' So we have something to prove. You can do it with young players, sprinkled in with older guys who know what to do. Kids across the country still want to come here, and this is a great program. Kids still want to come here.”

“This is humbling. You think you're supposed to win 30 games a year, go to the Elite Eight, go to the Final Four and then this hits you.”

“Our skill set wasn't where it needed to be. We didn't work as hard as we needed. Lack of leadership? People say our guard play stunk. I don't know, I have to look at the film. But this program is going to be fine. This is an experience. We will be a tough, hard-nosed fighting team next year. Because I can't sit through that. I can't take it.”

“I've spent more times on this campus then students have for four years. I've been in that cafeteria, but I didn't pay for that food, my grandmother gave it to me out the back door. I've always been treated kind on this campus. From Gus Crop, who treated me like one of his sons.  

Next Up
The Colonials will travel to either Providence or Charlotte pending the winner of that contest, which will be played Wednesday night at 7:15 PM at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence. A date and time for that game will be determined at a later time.

“Enjoy this win tonight, and then come tomorrow, and prepare for whoever we have to play,” said Johnson.

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