Wednesday, March 20, 2013

RMU defeats Kentucky

Karvel Anderson and RMU students celebrate the team's upset over Kentucky.
I've always been made fun of for my sports teams. I get it, it's easy to make fun of a kid who roots for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks and I don't take anything personal, it's all in good fun.

But after Robert Morris' NEC semifinal loss two Saturday's ago to Mount St. Mary's I had a serious moment of weakness. It was re-evaluation time. Was I praying to the wrong God? Was I eating the wrong foods? Why does the disappointment never end? 

And that's what made last night's 59-57 win vs. the defending champions in the first round of the NIT so incredible. Robert Morris, a team that got blown out of the water in the last game they played, didn't bat an eye against a college basketball Goliath.

What's even more strange is how RMU beat Kentucky. They didn't do it by hoisting up 35 three's and while Velton Jones had a good game, it wasn't one of those that he took over and dropped 20+ in. Nope, RMU just simply outplayed Kentucky. The defensive effort was easily the best I've seen all year and the Colonials rebounded better than anyone thought they could. They slowed the tempo down, which was an absolute must against a team as athletic Kentucky, and went 14-14 from the free throw line.

Russell Johnson was great again for RMU (p/c: Justin Berl).
It's hard to single out one guy who had "the best" game. Lucky Jones was fantastic and led the team with 15 points but also was thrown out after a flagrant two call late in the game, which was the right call in my opinion. Mike McFadden hit the two go-ahead free throws with eight seconds remaining and was fantastic defensively on the low block. In fact, I thought Mike had his best game before he hit the free throws. Russell Johnson did what Russell Johnson has been doing, filling the stat sheet with a 14 point, five rebound, and three steal game. Coron Williams set the tone early and both point guards played great. 

Then there was the crowd, who packed the chuck with 3,444 strong. They got in there early, were loud, crowd surfed the mascot AND A ONE YEAR OLD BABY, had Moses part the red sea, and had an epic (albeit slightly dangerous) court storming. In my opinion, it gets to a point where having 3,400 people going nuts right on top of you is probably just as loud as playing in an open 20,000 seat arena. Like No Huddle has said before, this team will rarely ever lose with a great atmosphere.

You could tell where this game was going to go after the first few minutes. If Kentucky was going to come out focused and ready to play, we would have known it. Instead, it was the opposite, with RMU silencing big blue nation and amping up the home crowd with a 10-0 start. I believe RMU only trailed once late in the first half took a 28-27 lead into the locker room, where they improved to 23-0 when leading at half (compared to only 1-10 when trailing).

I would like to give KY credit: they fought all night. RMU just had an answer for everything which was the most surprising part. Archie Goodwin was tough for the Wildcats and kept them in the game, even tying it with under two minutes left. 

Andy Tooe is officially on the radar of
major college programs.
To me, the most impressive offensive possession came with 1:45 remaining, Kentucky in the midst of a run but saw RMU still clinging to a two point lead. Velton Jones was iso'd with Wille Cauley-Stein, gave him a head fake, went to the buck to draw an extra defender and dumped it off to Mike McFadden for the slam. RMU needed a bucket bad and got it there. 

What more can you say about head coach Andy Toole, who out-coached John Calipari. His gameplan was great but he had his players believing they could beat Kentucky. The in-bounds play he drew up that eventually lead to the game winning points was brilliant. If that is the last time we ever see Andy Toole in the Sewall Center, that's a helluva way to go out. 

But coach Calipari said it best: If Kentucky would have won the game, it would have been a shame. The Colonials truly did deserve that one. The Robert Morris basketball team is the team I root for to avoid disappointment, and that certainly was the case last night. 

--Chris Cappella

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