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Bedlam in Moon: How Robert Morris pulled the biggest upset of the year

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Around 9:40 PM on March 19, nearly 19,000 people were stuffed inside Consol Energy Center, watching the Penguins kill a four-minute penalty in the third period of what would be an exciting come-from-behind win over the Washington Capitals. They were the unluckiest sports fans in Pittsburgh that night.

At the same time, about 16 miles northwest of uptown Pittsburgh, in a glorified high school gym called the Charles Sewall Center, less than 4,000 people were witness to one of the greatest moments in Pittsburgh basketball history.

The Robert Morris Colonials—just a week removed from getting knocked out of the Northeast Conference on their own home floor—knocked off the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats in the first round of the NIT.

It was a fairy tale story that the Wildcats, ranked fifth in the nation coming into the 2012-13 season, were even IN Coraopolis playing a basketball game. But the combination of a poor (by Kentucky's standards) season, a scheduling conflict and—most importantly—a class move on the part of Kentucky coach and Coraopolis native John Calipari, the 'Cats came to the Chuck.

And the Colonials won. Robert Morris pulled perhaps the most stunning upset of the year, taming the Wildcats 59-57 on two Mike McFadden PSR RMUfree throws with 9 seconds left.

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole talked to his team before the game about "playing to exhaustion," and his kids were dropping like flies with cramps by the end of the evening. When Kentucky's Kyle Wiltjer missed a 3-pointer at the end of the game, the clock hit zero and Robert Morris guard Velton Jones punched the ball into the air and turned to go celebrate with his teammates. Except Jones couldn't, because his legs locked up like a toy soldier and he could hardly walk.

“If having four or five of your guys going into full-body cramps in the last five minutes of the game doesn’t speak to full exhaustion and doesn’t speak to how badly our guys wanted to win this game and what they were willing to do to win it, I don’t know what does," said Toole as the Sewall Center erupted into bedlam, with what seemed like all 3,400 people rushing the floor.

In a year when court-storming has become cliche, the sceneat the Chuck after this one was, well, what court-storming was made for.

The Robert Morris players will remember the night for the rest of their lives. They were so excited afterward they were tripping over their words, thinking faster than they could speak. Simply caught up in the ecstacy of the moment.

“All I could do was just look at the crowd and smile," senior Russell Johnson said after winding down. “You know, even if we’d have lost the game, it was just great to have it at home with the crowd like that."

But they didn't lose, not by a longshot, and even Kentucky’s Calipari knew the right team won the game.

PSR RMU“They deserved to win," Calipari said. “If we’d have won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it have been a shame?"

The Robert Morris program has accomplished some great things in the past several years -- four straight NEC championship game appearances, two NCAA Tournament appearances and two NIT berths. Nothing, not even their near-upset of Villanova in the 2010 tourney, could compare to what happened over the course of two hours on March 19.

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