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Robert Morris buzzing about Kentucky's NIT visit to Moon

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 10:17 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris' Velton Jones goes after a loose ball againt Mount St. Mary's during the second half of their NEC Tournament semifinal game Saturday, March, 9, 2013, at Sewall Center.

Robert Morris senior point guard Velton Jones was sitting in his room playing a video game with teammate Karvel Anderson on Sunday when the NIT field was announced.

“I got a call from Russell (Johnson), and he said, ‘We're playing Kentucky,' and I said, ‘We get a trip to Lexington,' ” Jones said. “When he told me it was here, I said, ‘No way. There is no way that was happening. I was in shock.' ”

RMU's campus has been abuzz the past day.

After discovering that the Colonials were hosting defending NCAA Tournament champion Kentucky (20-11) in the first round of the NIT, excitement has been rampant.

Robert Morris (23-10) typically would never get a team of Kentucky's pedigree to play in Moon. Kentucky averages 23,099 fans at its home games at Rupp Arena. So it doesn't make much financial sense for the Wildcats to play at places such as Sewall Center, which seats only 3,500. In the Colonials' 15 homes this season, a combined 15,692 attended.

But because Rupp Arena is hosting second- and third-round NCAA Tournament games Thursday and Saturday, the Wildcats couldn't play there Tuesday.

Tickets went on sale at 9 a.m. Monday, and by 2:30 p.m., the game sold out. Students started lining up at the ticket office about 6:30 a.m.

After the sellout was announced, tickets started popping up for sale online. A $15 general-admission ticket was being scalped for $75-$150 each.

RMU sports information director Jim Duzyk said he's preparing for Sewall Center's largest ever media turnout, which will include more than 20 reporters who follow Kentucky. He said additional seating is being added.

“It's crazy around here,” Jones said. “I saw a girl actually crying when she heard the news. There are not too many times Robert Morris has had a chance for a school like that to come here.”

This also is Kentucky's first trip to Pittsburgh for a game. The Wildcats have played Pitt and Duquesne but either at a neutral site or in Lexington.

Kentucky defeated Robert Morris, 92-67, at Rupp Arena in 1993 in the only meeting between the schools.

“I was kind of shocked,” Johnson said of learning about facing Kentucky. “When they said, ‘at Robert Morris,' that's what got me.”

Johnson said losing in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals to Mount St. Mary's was hard to get past, but landing this game was a dream.

Robert Morris canceled classes Tuesday night, and the students requested a “Red Out.”

Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said the past 24 hours have been frantic. He's been interviewed on radio shows and has gotten a lot of calls.

“This is a great opportunity for the program and the school,” Toole said. “It's immeasurable. It's only of value if we take care of our own business.”

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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