For Robert Morris, lots to learn in loss to Duke
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Robert Morris coach Andy Toole wasn't in a mood to talk about the future, not while he still was engrossed in the present.
But even after the 16th-seeded Colonials stumbled against top-seeded Duke, 85-56, on Friday night in an NCAA Tournament South Region second-round game, Toole acknowledged interest in the program's next challenge.
He said his team has to learn from Duke.
“Duke didn't do anything spectacular,” he said. “They were in the right spots. They move the ball and made the simple plays. They defended and stayed in a stance, and they continually do it possession by possession.
“That's what great teams do. They do simple stuff really well, and they do it every time. That's a lesson for us.”
With five starters and eight of the top nine players returning, along with a recruiting class that includes Chartiers Valley guard Matt McConnell — one of the WPIAL's leading scorers this season — the pieces are in place for sustained success.
“What Andy's done is not just build a good team, he's built a really good program,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Whenever you beat a team that's a good program, that means even more.”
Robert Morris (20-15) had memorable moments against Duke, just not enough of them. Junior Rodney Pryor scored 23 points, and freshman Marcquise Reed had 22.
“We'll take away the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament, staying together in hostile environments and learning how to stay together and staying true to ourselves,” Pryor said. “We have to care over a lot of those details to make us a better team.”
The Colonials had plenty of ups and downs. They didn't seem to play together until late in the season after a long team meeting and a suspension of senior Lucky Jones. But they ended the regular season with three consecutive victories, won three more in the Northeast Conference Tournament to win the title and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament, and then defeated North Florida in the first round.
“Playing in the NCAA Tournament is a blessing, and you have to enjoy it while you're here,” Pryor said. “Not a lot of people get to experience it, and it's not promised every year. Everyone wants to play on this stage.”
Against Duke, Pryor posted his 10th 20-point performance of the season and became eighth player in school history to make 80 3-pointers in a season. He finished with 81. Reed scored in double figures for the 26th time and topped 20 points for the 11th time.
“People doubted us and didn't think we could win the NEC,” Reed said. “We came out and proved them wrong. For us to make it this far in the tournament helps us for next year.”
Sophomore point guard Kavon Stewart improved throughout the season, and freshman forward Elijah Minnie (Lincoln Park) was strong after adapting to the college game. Junior forward Aaron Tate anchored the team on defense and the boards.
Robert Morris president Gregory Dell'Omo said he couldn't be more proud of Toole and the team.
“They built a consistent winner,” Dell'Omo said of Toole and former coach Mike Rice. “We may not get back to the tournament every year. We've had NIT wins, but w e're winning 20 games or more every year and been to the postseason.
“No longer is (it), ‘That would be nice to do those things.' That's become the expectation. And that's changed the culture of the institution athletically as well as academically.”