CHARLOTTE — Robert Morris had flashes of brilliance.
Junior guard Rodney Pryor’s two uncontested, breakaway dunks. Senior forward Lucky Jones’ punchy block of 6-foot-11, 270-pound center Jahlil Okafor’s layup. A 10-0 second half stretch that brought the score within 10 points and had the crowd on edge for at least a few minutes.
Those highlights are what the Colonials will remember instead of the 85-56 score line in Friday’s round of 64 loss to
Duke at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena. Robert Morris had moments of radiance but couldn’t consistently compete with the height, heft and hits of one of the most decorated college basketball teams in the history of the game.
“It’s fun when you can come out here and do things like that and then remember it and talk about it with friends,” Pryor said. “Obviously, we lost. But you’ve still got to enjoy the moment playing in the NCAA tournament because not a lot of teams do it.”
No one expected the No. 16 seed to be the first to beat a No. 1 seed in the modern incarnation of the NCAA tournament. But no one also expected the mid-major school from Moon, Pa., to play as well as it did on the national stage. The stat sheet wasn’t incredibly one-sided, the main difference coming in execution.
Duke outshot Robert Morris 63 percent to 37 percent from the field and 48 percent to 32 percent from the 3-point line.
Two-thirds of the Colonials’ scoring trio was their usual consistent selves. Pryor scored a game-high 23 points while freshman guard Marcquise Reed posted 22. But senior forward Lucky Jones couldn’t quite find his shot with just seven points.
“Obviously, me shooting terrible, wasn’t out there to help my other two scorers,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we got what we wanted. We just didn’t execute.”
Duke’s senior guard Quinn Cook score 22 points while big man Okafor tallied 21. Three other players managed double-digit points, made possible mostly by height, as seven Blue Devils are 6-foot-4 or taller.
Reed said Duke’s size made it hard for Robert Morris to execute offensively, as the Blue Devils would alter the Colonials’ shots at the net and hardly ever let them go uncontested from a distance.
“Sometimes playing against guys that make you play faster than you want, make you a little bit uncomfortable, you rush some of those layups you normally would finish,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “That's why they're the one seed.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was impressed with Robert Morris’ performance and ability to never give up.
“What Andy's done is not just built a good team but a really good program,” he said. “Whenever you beat a team that's a good program, that means even more. They have a well-conceived offense to take advantage of those individual skills of Reed, Jones and Pryor. Those kids can really score the ball.”
The win gave the Duke its 100th in the tournament, making it just the third team in history to reach that milestone. Robert Morris is now 2-8 in eight appearances in the NCCA tournament and has never made it past the round of 64.
As a senior, Jones said he was very emotional after the game but tried to keep the perspective that no one thought his team could even make it this far.
“It’s the NCAA tournament: magic happens,” he said. “This is probably one of the toughest games I’ll have to leave behind. But at the end of the day, this is one heck of a season. Proud of my team. Love my team.”