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Robert Morris 59, Kentucky 57

Written by Craig Meyer on .

veltondefense original

It led Sportscenter, it was the topic of sports talk radio in the city and nationally, and it graced the front page of newspapers today.

There’s really no downgrading the scene at Robert Morris last night, as the Colonials made the most of a unique arrangement and knocked off Kentucky at home.

Let’s get into what happened.

*** So I spend a large part of the pregame coverage talking about Kentucky’s length and size advantage, and what happens? Robert Morris was able to stay competitive on the boards (25-19 edge for UK), it wasn’t significantly outscored in the paint (26-20) and it largely limited Willie Cauley-Stein down low.

Andy Toole and the players talked a lot about how they weren’t overwhelmed by the Wildcats’ size and that they knew they could play physical with them. It’s a key distinction to make – there’s a big difference between size and physicality, and the Colonials were able to properly take advantage of it.

*** While the game was going on, I thought there were two ways to look at Robert Morris’ fast start. Part of me saw it as an encouraging sign for the Colonials – that they came out and played with a sense of poise and confidence. They could have easily been over-excited and shown signs of giddiness and impatience, or they could have just been clearly intimidated.

The early run negated those doubts, but as Kentucky fought back in the game, I looked at it a different way – that the Wildcats had weathered the frenzied storm of being Robert Morris’ so-called Super Bowl. After getting over the early pandemonium, Kentucky settled in and started to play much better. It was like they weathered the proverbial storm.

But even after they got the lead down to one at halftime and were able to tie it later, Robert Morris was able to fight back, extending the lead in the first instance and ultimately capturing the victory in the second. A lot of smaller conference teams would break down in moments like that when they realized what they were on the precipice of accomplishing, and credit the Colonials for not doing that.

*** It was funny to see the stat sheet after the game because it highlighted the dissonance between how you simply view and analyze a game, and then what the numbers have to say about it.

I really do believe that Robert Morris played excellent defense for most of that game, but it was interesting to see that Kentucky still shot 52.5 percent from the field and got just over one point per possession (1.008, to be exact), which signifies a better-than-average offensive performance.

Again, I still think the Colonials showed a certain aggressiveness and tenacity on the defensive end, but it was just interesting to see the contrast.

*** Having gone through what he did with Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship, John Calipari knows games can be won and lost at the free-throw line, particularly in such a close contest as the one last night. Unlike that aforementioned title game, Calipari’s team did not lose it at the line (13 for 18 is a pretty good showing), but Robert Morris just simply won it there going 14 for 14, the first time this season it has gone perfect from the line as a team with at least five attempts.

*** Building on the free throw point, it’s time to give some major credit to Mike McFadden. I’ve said on more than one occasion here that he’s limited as an offensive threat, but he really stepped up his game last night.

Obviously, there were the two free throws at the end (which were pretty impressive given the circumstances and the fact that he’s just over a 60 percent shooter behind the charity stripe), but he was a strong presence throughout the game on the low post. He helped somewhat neutralize Cauley-Stein on the defensive end and he had a very efficient offensive performance, making four of his six shots.

*** Archie Goodwin led all scorers with 18 points and while he’s a nice young talent, I honestly thought the best player on the court for Kentucky last night was Jarrod Polson.

This was the first time I’d really seen him play in-depth this season and having grown up in the state, I always thought he was just beloved because he was a hard-working, short white kid from Kentucky (something I would call Jeff Sheppard Syndrome, patent pending, although that guy was a Final Four MVP). Was I ever wrong.

Kentucky was a much better team when he was out on the court, one that seemed to be under much more control. He ended up scoring 10 points, dishing out three assists and even showed a flair for the dramatic – pulling off a great spin move through traffic that set up a nice dunk from Alex Poythress.

*** While we’re on the topic of Polson, it was not hard to see one reason why Kentucky has struggled this season – Ryan Harrow simply isn’t a difference maker at point guard. Calipari’s dribble-drive offense relies on a dynamic point guard that is able to make plays, something that has usually never been a problem. Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, and even Marquis Teague and Darius Washington were able to do it, but Harrow has proven that he’s not capable.

With top point guard recruit Andrew Harrison coming in next season, I really do wonder about Harrow’s future with that program.

*** I think it makes for an easy narrative that Kentucky’s struggles this season are a product of the one-and-done model finally catching up to Calipari, but for anyone that thinks this, take a look at the Wildcats’ recruiting class next season.

They just added a top-10 player in Julius Randle today and they’re the presumed favorite to land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins, who’s been touted my more than a few people as the next LeBron. This could very well end up being the greatest recruiting class of all time, so don’t expect Kentucky to be among the elite next season -- especially since Goodwin indicated that he, Poythress and Cauley-Stein are all likely to return for their sophomore seasons (though we’ll see if that actually comes to fruition).

*** According to data compiled by Ken Pomeroy, Kentucky had the average experience of 0.91 years of college basketball, the 334th mark among 347 Division I teams. Robert Morris’ was 1.91 years, with some of that experience coming from key players like Velton Jones and Russell Johnson. It’s hard to discount that kind of advantage.

*** As it has been for much of the second half of the season, Johnson and Lucky Jones led the way in scoring with 14 and 15 points, respectively. In 11 of the team’s last 18 games, at least one of the two has been among the team’s top two scorers and in five of those games, the pair led the team in scoring.

There’s obviously a lot of praise to be handed out, but those two deserve a lot of credit, both last night and over the last two months.

*** I wrote before I game that I thought Kyle Wiltjer was due for a big day, so he proceeds to go 1 for 4, which included his miss right before the buzzer. If he’s not knocking down shots, Wiltjer’s not a very useful player, as he is pretty woeful on the defensive end. Again, you all should just never listen to my predictions.

*** For writers like me that look for symbolism, I think the fact that Calipari hasn’t been wearing a tie much this season is pretty telling. His postgame remarks indicate as much, but this seems like it’s just been an exceptionally frustrating season and team for him.

*** There were some complaints about student behavior last night and that’s understandable. I can’t stress this enough, but fans should never, ever, ever, ever….ever throw objects on the court. It’s inexcusable and with the game on national TV, it didn’t exactly represent the university well.

With that being said, though, those actions weren’t indicative of the Robert Morris fans as a whole. Granted, this is my first year covering the team, but the fans have largely always been just fine. I think last night really showed that the dumb actions of a few people can taint a larger group.

*** I was asked by more than a few Kentucky fans on Twitter about the Lucky Jones foul and I’ll say this much – it was a very, very hard foul and I think he definitely deserved the ejection based on what happened.

However, I don’t think that’s some sign that he’s a malicious person as some were suggesting. Having covered him this season, Lucky’s a nice, mild-mannered kid. That kind of a foul (to the point where he basically clotheslined Goodwin) was uncalled for even if he didn’t mean for it to be that hard. Obviously, he meant to foul Goodwin before he could get a shot up, but let’s not try to use that as an example that Jones is some dangerous deviant, because he’s not.

*** Maybe it was just an off shooting night, but last night was an example that Karvel Anderson’s wrist might be affecting him more than before. He missed all five of his shots, three of which were 3-pointers, and during layup lines going into the second half, he was holding on to his wrist (the one on his shooting hand, at that).

As Toole noted after the game, Anderson played a great game on the defensive end and made a lot of good plays that helped the team get the win, but his shooting was not indicative of the kind of player he is.

*** Most Robert Morris fans realize this, but the win last night, and the ensuing attention it has received, will only add to the speculation of other (and larger) programs going after Toole this offseason. I’m still not sure if there’s an opening that’s a realistic option, aside from maybe Siena, but there’s still time for other jobs to open up.

I think the media can sometimes jump the gun and speculate about coaches leaving before the opportunity even arises, so I’m going to do my best here to only relay reports from either myself or other news sources. But as long as you put Toole live on Sportscenter, the chatter will always be there.

*** In the postgame press conference, I asked Toole about what the win could mean for the program going forward. His answer had some coach-speak elements to it, but it was a pretty solid one – none of us will really know right now and we won’t for a while.

There’s obviously a palpable buzz around the win right now nationwide, but by the end of even today, that will die down outside of Pittsburgh and Lexington.

From there, the onus shifts to Robert Morris. It took advantage of one extraordinary opportunity and beat the defending national champions at home, but now it’s on the program to take proper advantage of what transpired last night.

The Colonials can either be a piece of bar trivia and an “Oh, remember when that happened?” kind of anecdote, or they can use that win to take a tangible next step in what’s been a successful building process. It’s all on them to decide whether it will be the former or latter scenario.

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