CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Robert Morris was simply no match for Duke Friday evening in the second round of the NCAA tournament, falling 85-56. After a thrilling opening round victory over North Florida in Dayton, the momentum Andy Toole’s squad brought with them wasn’t nearly enough to stay competitive with the Blue Devils.
The Colonials trailed by as much as 21 in the first half, but fought to bring the game within 10 points midway through the second half. However, a 12-0 Duke run quickly ended RMU’s hopes of a miracle comeback.
“We don’t give up and don’t worry about the score,” freshman Marcquise Reed said. “Our program is about continuing to fight, and if we did, coach said we would be right back in this game.”
“Winning that first game really gave us momentum and confidence to come in here and give it our best,” senior Lucky Jones added. “Win or lose, Robert Morris really played hard this whole season to get to this point. We have some incredible guys in the locker room and they’re going to be back next year to do it again.”
The Colonials faced a tough task being faced with #1 seed Duke in the Blue Devils’ backyard. After all, a 16-seed has never upset a 1-seed in the Tournament.
As pointed out by Toole in the postgame, for all the regular season and even postseason success his program has enjoyed during his tenure, this was the first NCAA tournament experience for everyone on the Robert Morris roster.
“None of the guys on our roster have played an NCAA game before Wednesday,” Toole said. “For some this was their first season of college basketball. I tried to explain to them that one of the reasons why we push so hard and hold you to such a high standard is because these are the games we want to be in. We want to play better than we did tonight.”
It doesn’t get more difficult than facing Duke within the borders of North Carolina. Perhaps the only thing that compares is facing Kentucky in the Bluegrass State. The Colonials have already taken down the latter, albeit inside their own friendly confines.
Now that they have lived through the challenge of Duke, this group which graduates just two players (Jones and David Appolon) will be able to draw on this experience in their future quest for success in the NEC and beyond.
“These are the games that we work so hard for in December because when you do play a game like this, you can’t have any cracks,” Toole said. “You can’t have any kinks in your armor. That’s what they take advantage of, and that’s what we tell them, is that you’ve got to be working at this year round. That starts in the next two weeks as we start preparing for next season.”
For Jones, there’s no other way he would have wanted to see his career end (well, short of winning the whole darn thing of course).
“Hats off to our fans,” Jones said of the Colonial fans, who filled a section of Time Warner Cable Arena in vocal fashion. “They’re some of the most dedicated fans you’ll ever meet, thick or thin, win or lose, they’re always there. I had a great run at Robert Morris. I played as hard as I can for as long as I can.”
The major question in Moon Township this offseason will be whether Toole himself returns. The up-and-coming fifth year coach already has a stellar resume. His name has been floated about for job openings in the past, but this year’s NCAA success has put Toole on the map.
Whether or not Toole returns, the experience gained by this young Colonial group over the last week will be invaluable to their continued success in the years to come.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra, among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.