Robert Morris stuns defending national champion Kentucky in NIT
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Talk about once in a blue moon.
Mike McFadden hit two free throws with 8.7 seconds left, and Robert Morris upset mighty Kentucky, 59-57, on Tuesday night in the opening round of the 76th NIT.
Kentucky (21-12), the No. 1 seed in the tournament, had one final shot, but Kyle Wiltjer's 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and sent the record crowd of 3,444 at Sewall Center into a frenzy as it rushed the floor.
“Robert Morris played a great game,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who grew up in Moon. “They played a physical, tough, hard-nosed basketball game. The game was too rough for us; we were down 10-0. There were guys we couldn't play because we wanted to win.”
The victory helped ease the sting of Robert Morris' loss in the Northeast Conference semifinals as the regular-season champion.
“This was an absolutely incredible effort from our guys,” RMU coach Andy Toole said. “I'm proud of how they executed down the stretch. It was absolutely a terrific win.”
The loss ends a disappointing March for defending national champion Kentucky, which missed the NCAA Tournament after a late-season slide and settled for the 32-team NIT, a humbling spot for the winningest program in college basketball history.
Meanwhile, it was the first time Robert Morris had hosted a BCS school and was arguably the biggest win in the Colonials' history.
“They deserved to win this game,” Calipari said. “We didn't deserve to win this game. ... This was humbling. It was good for our players to experience this.”
Added Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin, “The crowd wasn't a factor. Robert Morris made shots and played their best game of the season.”
Robert Morris (24-10) opened a 49-36 lead with 8:51 left, but Kentucky went on an 11-0 run and tied the score at 53 with 3:15 left.
Then it turned into a chess match when Robert Morris senior guard Velton Jones took over. He hit two free throws and then fed McFadden for a dunk as Robert Morris went back up, 57-53, with 1:49 left.
Kentucky tied the score at 57 on baskets by Willie Cauley-Stein and Goodwin with 42.5 seconds left.
“This was a hard game,” Calipari said. “It's what we deserved after the loss at Vanderbilt (in the SEC Tournament). Robert Morris deserved this. It was a great shot in the arm for them.”
Robert Morris worked the clock down to 12.7 seconds left, and Toole called a timeout to set up a play.
Russell Johnson took the inbounds pass, but his layup was blocked by Cauley-Stein. McFadden picked up the ball and was fouled.
McFadden, a 64-percent foul shooter, made them both.
“I kept my composure,” McFadden said. “My team had my back.”
Lucky Jones, who was ejected with 3:15 left, led Robert Morris with 15 points, and Johnson added 14.
Robert Morris, which will play either Charlotte or Providence in the second round, raced out to a 10-0 lead during the first 4:18 of the game by going 4 for 7 from the field and forcing Kentucky into four turnovers.
“We wanted to show we had no fear,” Velton Jones said. “We knew we could be physical with them.”
Goodwin led Kentucky with 18 points.
“As soon as we found out we were playing them, we knew if we played our game we could win,” Johnson said. “It was great. All I could do was look at the crowd and smile.”
Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.
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