Despite the odds, Robert Morris remains optimistic vs. Duke
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second round of the NCAA Tournament has produced big upsets, with No. 3 seeds Iowa State and Baylor being banished Thursday.
Could a No. 1 seed be next?
A No. 16 seed never has defeated a No. 1 seed — such teams have gone 0-122 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Robert Morris gets its chance to snap the streak when its faces South Region No. 1 Duke at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Duke is a 22 1⁄2-point favorite and features one of the top freshmen in country in 6-foot-11 center Jahlil Okafor.
“Obviously, a lot of things have to go right for us,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “You see some of the upsets today, and that gets you excited about the possibility that you have. Someone has got to do it at some point, and our guys are excited to play.”
Robert Morris is 0-7 in what is now considered NCAA second-round games. The Colonials lost to Arizona (94-60) in 1989 and to UCLA (73-53) in 1992 as a No. 16 seed. They also lost to Kansas (79-71) in 1990, Michigan State (77-62) in 2009 and Villanova (73-70 in overtime) in 2010 when they were a No. 15 seed. They almost beat No. 5 Purdue in 1983, losing 55-53, after winning a preliminary-round game.
“I believe playing that play-in game in 1983 helped us,” said Jim Elias, a former RMU assistant coach and current radio analyst. “It was a good confidence builder. I think the same thing can help this team.”
Some of the Colonials said they believe the pressure will be on Duke (29-4) because the Blue Devils haven't had the luxury of getting a tournament game under their belt. The Colonials defeated North Florida, 81-77, on Wednesday in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.
“We're playing with a lot of confidence, and we already have a win in the tournament,” RMU junior Rodney Pryor said. “I believe we can go out and make plays. We have nothing to lose.”
Robert Morris (20-14) rallied from a 13-point, second-half deficit against North Florida.
Pryor, senior Lucky Jones and freshman Marcquise Reed combined to score 60 points in the Colonials' second tournament win. They'll need a similar effort to defeat the Blue Devils.
Jones led the way with 21 points, and Pryor and Reed added 20 and 19, respectively.
Toole was asked about Duke before the North Florida game, but he said his concentration was on the Ospreys, not the Blue Devils.
“We've all seen them,” Toole said. “They have their own TV network and are on three or four times a week. Our players are familiar with them.”
Toole probably could get a scouting report from his wife, Brooke, or son, Ryan, both of whom are Duke fans.
“Well, I married his mom, and she's a Duke fan,” Toole said. “Ryan is 2 1⁄2, and I think he's doing it to bother me. He enjoys reminding me, ‘Duke, Duke, Duke.' ”
Toole said he expects his family will be rooting for the Colonials on Friday.
For Lucky Jones, playing Duke is a dream come true, he said.
“I like our chances,” he said. “At the end of the day, it's a team game, no matter who they have on their team.”
Toole said he sat down with his players prior to the postseason and talked to them about his experiences in the NEC and NCAA tournaments.
“Here are things that made successful people successful,” Toole said. “They enjoyed and embraced the moment. They were excited about the game, the atmosphere and competition.”
North Carolina native Aaron Tate said he is excited to get a chance to play in front of family. When the Colonials played at UNC on Nov. 16, Tate missed the game while serving a suspension for violating team rules.
“I feel we have a different confidence, a different swagger and a different toughness,” he said, “that makes anything possible.”