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Robert Morris revels in attention after Kentucky upset

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris' Mike McFadden celebrates with the fans after his free throws in the closing seconds won the game for the Colonials. The Colonials beat Kentucky, 59-57, in the NIT Basketball Tournament at the Sewall Center on Tuesday March 19, 2013.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole makes an emphatic point to Lucky Jones. The Colonials beat Kentucky, 59-57, in the NIT on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at Sewall Center.

Andy Toole got little sleep.

“None, basically,” the Robert Morris basketball coach said Wednesday.

And it wasn't just the tension and excitement of a nationally televised, 59-57 win over Kentucky, a game that sent the oversize crowd at Sewall Center howling into the night. Toole said he returned home about 1 a.m. Then he read and answered about 300 congratulatory text messages. The emails, he said, had to wait.

At 3 a.m., Toole recapped the NIT first-round game for his wife, Brooke, because they had not been able to talk much immediately afterward. About an hour later, his 5-month-old son, Ryan, woke up.

“I tried to fake sleep till about 6,” Toole said. “But it's too hard with your mind racing.”

Still, Toole seemed refreshed. At 32, he is young enough to handle the workload. Also, there was coffee, Snapple and doughnuts augmenting an adrenaline rush that helped propel him through a day spent in large part talking to national and local media outlets.

“The amount of attention it's gotten, not only regionally but nationally, is something we haven't seen here very often, if at all,” he said.

Not knowing if the Colonials would next play Providence or Charlotte, who met Wednesday night, Toole gave his squad the day off to savor the win.

“I think it would be foolish to try and push the next-game stuff after what they just experienced,” said Toole, whose team will face Providence in the second round — the status of Lucky Jones, who was ejected late in the Kentucky game after a flagrant foul, was unclear. “I think it would have a negative impact if we brought them all in at 1 o'clock and said, ‘Forget it, move on, we have another game.' I think it would be too soon to do that.' ”

Players went about their usual business, except for an added dose of attention and adulation. Even one who never suited up basked in the glow. But senior forward/center Lijah Thompson, who missed the season with a knee injury, is a popular figure and a constant, cheerful presence.

“I've been getting a lot of congratulations,” he said. “A lot of, ‘You did it.' ”

“Obviously everybody's talking about it still,” said Chad Dawgiello, a sophomore from Seton-La Salle and a receiver on the football team. “We're all excited to see the highlights on TV. It's a big event. We're all pretty pumped about it.”

The game drew a 1.3 national rating (1.6 million viewers) on ESPN, according to Nielsen Media Research. The 3.47 rating in the Pittsburgh area paled against the Capitals-Penguins' 13.64 rating on Root, but only three other cities, including Kentucky hoops hotbeds Louisville and Cincinnati, had higher local basketball ratings.

Dawgiello said the big win means a lot for his school's image.

“We're kind of under the radar a little bit,” he said. “A game like this will get us more well known.”

The RMU bookstore, operated by Barnes & Noble College, had higher online merchandise sales Wednesday. “It's been phenomenal,” assistant manager Jessica French said, without providing specifics.

The attention generated by the game and a win over a program like Kentucky's likely will help recruiting, Toole said. “But we have to be smart about it. As a staff we have to make sure we capitalize on it. Get on the phone with guys while the iron's hot.”

From a marketing standpoint, “the way things played out worked out better than making the NCAA Tournament,” said Tim Klaasen, a university brand representative for a Michigan-based licensing agency. “We're hoping to capitalize on a situation like this.”

Marty Galosi, RMU's associate athletic director for marketing and sales, retrieved the game ball for posterity. He said this was one of several recent events that raised the university's athletic and overall profiles.

“Now,” he said, “we get to say, ‘We beat Kentucky.' ”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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