A lot has happened since 2013 for the Robert Morris Colonials. They’ve made an NCAA Tournament (which they won a game in, albeit in the First Four), got a new arena, and joined a new league.
But there is one thing that resonates overall with the university: a win at home over Kentucky in the 2013 NIT.
“It’s one of the ways, I think, that people identify with our university and our basketball program is that game. Often times when you meet with somebody, and they ask where you coach at they basically remember that,” Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole stated.
This Friday will be the first time since 2013-14 that the two have faced off — they met in the regular season following the NIT shocker. Not only does that upset resonate with Yinzers worldwide, but as Toole said, it resonates around campus, and alums of Robert Morris University.
“You don’t see a national postseason game come to a small mid-major like that all the time,” Ethan Morrison of the Colonial Sports Network said. “So I just thought about how happy I was and how proud my dad being a graduate of the university. I get chills every time I think of the game.”
The Colonials got an automatic bid to the 2013 NIT after winning the regular-season title and losing in the NEC Tournament. Kentucky, on the other hand, was the defending national champions, SEC preseason favorites, but dropped 11 games, missing its first tournament in four seasons.
Rupp Arena was hosting the NCAA Tournament, so they could not play the game there in their home. The women’s team hosted a regional in the NCAA Tournament, so they couldn’t play at their other arena. Only one option was left on the table, let eighth-seeded Robert Morris host one seed Kentucky in Moon Township at 3,056 seat Charles L. Sewall Center, a far cry from the 23,500 seated Rupp Arena.
That place was nowhere near new to Kentucky head coach John Calipari. He was born in Moon Township, graduated from Moon Area High School in 1978 and spent a lot of time on RMU’s campus.
“When we went in to play them, you know I spent a lot of time on that campus, I tell the story my grandmother and my great aunt worked in the cafeteria. I used to sneak food out the back door from them. Work out down there. Have some lunch. Then worked out some more,” Calipari said Monday during media availability. “It’s a special place. What they’ve done to the campus, the facilities, off the charts. It’s not the same school as when I grew up in that area.”
Calipari and Kentucky would walk into a full Sewall Center, as it filled up 90-minutes before tip-off. It would stay ruckus throughout.
Robert Morris scored the first 10 points, but Kentucky would make a valiant comeback to only trail by one at the break. Runs, physicality, and keeping it a close game were the story of this matchup.
“We fought; we’re hanging around. If we want to win the game, we’re gonna have to get lower, hold your post position. Got to fight, that’s what basketball is,” Calipari said at halftime of that game.
The rest would be a close battle until Mike McFadden hit two free throws for the Colonials with 8.7 seconds remaining, securing the upset victory, 59-57.
“It’s probably the greatest consolation prize you can possibly have,” Toole said postgame.
The Colonials would take the trip back to Lexington the next season, as the Colonials tried to make it a sweep against the nationally ranked No. 1 Wildcats. It wouldn’t go all that well as Kentucky won 87-49.
This Friday though, a new, young Colonials’ squad will look to make memories of their own against another Kentucky team.
The Colonials opened its new season with a 69-59 loss at UCF, but of the three double-digit scorers, two were transfers and one was a sophomore. Robert Morris has a completely different team from its 4-15 team last season.
“It’s a dangerous game, especially coming off of this. Having to give the kids Wednesday off. Probably not getting back until 3-4 in the morning. Having one practice day, and then playing them. It’s gonna be a hard game for us, that game should be hard,” Calipari said.
Although a lot may have changed, it’s the same two coaches and two young squads. Can Robert Morris take round three and the victory?