Rapid Reaction: Robert Morris 56, Duke 85

Written by Megan Ryan on .

Aren't these always a little awkward once the season's over? Anyway, for those of you who aren't quite ready to let go yet, here's what I got for you from the season-ending loss to almighty Duke.

Turning point: Okafor's layup with 9:33 to go that brought the score back to a 20-point gap at 66-46 when just minutes before Robert Morris had made a run to come within 10 at 54-44. Mind you, there were many times when Duke took hold of the game. But after the Colonials showed that spark, I think everyone in the arena was wondering if they were in to see another big first round upset from a Robert Morris team that had come from behind for the win in both of its previous big games. And yet, Duke, of course, took command again, extending its lead to its largest at 31 points.

Game ball: If we're going by winning team it has to be Quinn Cook, senior guard for Duke. He had 22 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals to lead his team. And he made six 3-pointers, which is more than half of his team's total. He's just one of two seniors on the team, and it's obvious why he's the undisputed leader. I mean, Okafor was also outstanding and made just the entire Robert Morris team look like Keebler elves, so that deserves a mention. And Robert Morris-wise, both Marcquise Reed and Rodney Pryor were excellent. Reed was consistent with his shot for 22 points when no one else was, which continually impresses me since he's just a freshman. Pryor really turned it on in the second half to end up with a game-high 23 points, and for a guy that sometimes has trouble turning around a bad start, that was big.

What it means: Well, season's over. Sorry to be blunt. But it is. The good news is, it's not an unduly hard loss since a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the modern incarnation of the tournament, and I don't think many people really expected the Colonials to win, if they took a real deep look into themselves. And Robert Morris played decently. Not it's best game, but there are positives to take from it, and that's kind of what counts when playing a team like Duke. So, for a team that I certainly did not expect to make it to the NCAA tournament with all the ups and downs of the regular season, it's not a bad way to go out. Pretty cool way, actually.

What's next: NOTHING. I'm just kidding, it's offseason, but there's a whole new year on the horizon, my friends. All five starters of Stewart, Pryor, Tate, Reed and Minnie are returning next year. That's a big bonus experience-wise and will hopefully curb the very long getting-comfortable-with-each-other stage they had this year. There's momentum heading into next season as NEC champs and NCAA tournament players. New recruits such as local star Matty McConnell and Isaiah Still will come in to fill the voids left by Appolon and Jones. And there's spotlight on the team, some more recognition on the national stage. And that is a big bonus. Toole said this has been a terrific experience for his players that he hopes pushes the program in the right direction (not to be confused with excellent British boy band One Direction). In his own words, "I hope they take the last two weeks, how they felt, what they’ve accomplished … and remember that feeling about the season."

Random shoutout: To Duke's Tyus Jones. Because, you guessed it, the freshman guard is from Apply Valley, Minnesota. I remember what a big deal it was when he was making his college announcement, and how people were, like, upset he didn't chose my alma mater the University of Minnesota. And I was like, dang, I wouldn't either if Duke came calling. Anyway, he had 10 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals as a starter.

Well, that's it guys. But don't suddenly unfollow me over on the Twitter now that the season's said and done. I'll have a season in review coming out Sunday as well as more news about the 2015-16 class (which I am told will be expanding from the two previously announced dudes (Matthew Driscoll style) as Toole is "close" on a few other guys). Ok, I just used parentheses within parentheses and waxed poetic on Tyus Jones, so I think it's time we end this thing. Thanks for keeping up with me through the last part of this season even though I'm not Craig Meyer. See ya'll back in the 'Burgh.

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Robert Morris ends season in 85-56 NCAA tournament loss to Duke

Written by Megan Ryan on .

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.”

Megan Ryan: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.

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Rapid Reaction: Robert Morris 81, North Florida 77

Written by Megan Ryan on .

Just a quick one tonight, folks. Some of us have to get up at 6 a.m. to catch a flight to Charlotte.

Turning point: Back-to-back 3-pointers from Pryor and Jones with about nine minutes to go in the game. The scores put Robert Morris within one point of North Florida for the first time since early in the first half. And it also marked the moment when the Colonials actually started making their shots, especially 3s. It was the time when everything started going right for Robert Morris instead of cringingly wrong, so all good stuff.

Game ball: Tough one, but I have to give this to freshman forward Elijah Minnie. Dude, as North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll would call him, scored a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds while also having a block, a steal and an assist. His 6-foot-8 frame was sometimes the only thing that stood out for the Colonials in the first half, and a lot of his plays were clutch. He's another guy who often goes under the radar in favor of Reed, Pryor and Jones, but he's a great player. Nice kid, too.

What it means: Honestly, kind of a lot. Robert Morris hadn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1983 and are now 2-7 in eight appearances. The Northeast conference hadn't won a game since 2008. It was another comeback win, similar to the NEC championship game against St. Francis (N.Y.) recently, and showed maturity. It takes a mature team to overcome being down by so much and still pull out a win, and Robert Morris hadn't been a very mature team until about the last month. But the Colonials are playing their best right now, and it's a good time to be doing it.

What's next: DUKE!!!!!!! No. 1 seed and just all-over historic, storied, quintessential team. It's a quick turnaround to Charlotte on Friday (for me, mostly, haha), but it's bound to be a fun one. Robert Morris has a history of big game near-upsets, from nearly beating No. 2 seed Villanova in its last tournament appearance in 2010 to actually beating Kentucky in the NIT a few years back. So I'm expecting another fun one. Yeah, the Colonials are obviously the extreme underdogs, but it's March Madness, man. Who knows what'll happen. And if they do go out, it's going to be a great way to go.

Random shoutout: To Ospreys junior guard Beau Beech. He scored a game-high 28 points including six 3s and has just a very clean shot. At 6-foot-8 with a shot like that, he's a fantastic player. His name also sounds like a famous person's name, so he has that going for him if the NBA ever takes an interest.

That's all I got. Check in with me on Twitter as I travel to Charlotte. And look out for me on national TV, as I apparently was in the background of Toole's postgame interview this game. #embarrassing

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Robert Morris headed to NCAA tournament round of 64 after beating North Florida 81-77

Written by Megan Ryan on .

With just minutes left in his first NCAA tournament game, Lucky Jones turned toward the Robert Morris section of the crowd and screamed, beating his chest with pounding fist.

Robert Morris had finally, after being down by 13 points to North Florida, regained a significant lead while the Ospreys turned over the ball on a shot clock violation. With under two minutes to play, the dream of moving on to the round of 64 suddenly revived – and the senior forward let everyone in the University of Dayton Arena know it with his One Shining Moment-esque display.

“I felt the game had turned into our hands,” Jones said. “We had been struggling the whole first half, really weren’t playing together, really didn't have the great body language. But I felt once we got that stop, that really turned around the game.

“I felt it, and I was just proud. I let all my anger and emotion and everything else that I had inside my body – I just let it free.”

Jones’ 21 points and a team comeback effort led the Colonials to an 81-77 First Four win over tournament debutant North Florida (23-12) on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. Robert Morris (20-14) now has the opportunity to play No. 1 seed Duke in Charlotte on Friday.

The Colonials’ Duke destiny wasn’t always certain, however, as the Ospreys went on a 14-4 run to end the first half before building up to a double-digit lead in the second half.

Much of that domination was because of junior forward Beau Beech, who led the game with 28 points and six 3-pointers. Robert Morris’ zone defense just couldn’t keep up with the 6-foot-8 menace.

“We were a little uncharacteristic in the first half in terms of ball movement, executing offense and kind of staying true to who we were defensively,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “And at halftime, we let them be for about five or six minutes, and I think they figured it out. … They looked like they understood what they needed to do in the second half.”

In the first half, Robert Morris allowed North Florida to shoot 58 percent from the field and 55 percent from beyond the arc. In the second half, North Florida shot just 40 percent and 27 percent, respectively, thanks to the Colonials changeups from zone to man-to-man.

Robert Morris also started shooting better, with freshman guard Marcquise Reed finally finding his rhythm and back-to-back 3-pointers from junior guard Rodney Pryor and Jones to really shift the momentum. All in all, four players ended in the double-digits – Jones with 21, Pryor with 20, Reed with 19 and freshman forward Elijah Minnie with 12. Minnie also tallied a double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds.

North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said when his team usually scores 70-plus points, it wins. But turnovers obliterated any chance of moving on, as the Colonials took the ball from them 19 times while only losing it five themselves.

“Our turnovers were self-inflicted at some points,” Driscoll said. “And when you self-inflict, and you allow them to get out and run, it's very, very difficult to stop and get those key stops that you need.”

While the gutsy effort to battle back for the just second NCAA tournament win in program history will fuel the Colonials, expectations outside the team aren’t high for the underdogs against a storied Duke team.

But Jones said he has faith in his team even when others may not.

“At the end of the day, it's a team game, no matter who they have on their team, no matter how many TV games they have,” he said. “I love Robert Morris. … We’ve just got to go out there and believe in ourselves. Have confidence, have fun and see what happens.”

Megan Ryan: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.

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