Robert Morris holds on to beat North Florida, will face Duke on Friday
DAYTON, Ohio — Robert Morris senior Lucky Jones said his dream was to get a shot at playing Duke.
Jones and his teammates will get their shot. Barely.
The trio of Jones, junior Rodney Pryor and freshman Marcquise Reed combined to score 60 points — 15 above their average — and Robert Morris held on to defeat North Florida, 81-77, in an NCAA First Four game Wednesday at UD Arena.
Robert Morris (20-14) advanced to Charlotte where it will play South Region top seed Duke at 7:10 p.m. Friday.
Sophomore Kavon Stewart hit two free throws with 9.7 seconds left to seal the win for the Colonials, who won for the second time in a play-in game at Dayton. The Colonials defeated Georgia Southern there in 1983.
Jones finished with 21 points, Pryor 20 and Reed 19, 16 coming in the second half. Freshman Elijah Minnie, a Lincoln Park graduate, added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“My dream is coming true,” said Jones. “I'm proud of my team. I'm proud of my coaches. We stuck together, and we had fun out there. We showed what we could do in the second half.”
Robert Morris, which trailed 44-31 and 59-51 in the second half, put together second-half runs of 9-0, 13-1 and 7-0 to overtake the Ospreys and win their seventh consecutive game.
“I'm extremely proud of our team and the way we competed,” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. “I thought we were a little uncharacteristic in the first half in terms of executing the offense and staying true on defense. But at halftime, they figured it out, and they looked like they understood what they needed to do in the second half.”
North Florida coach and Bellevue native Matthew Driscoll said back-to-back 3-pointers by Pryor and Jones switched the momentum.
“We did a good job building a 13-point lead, and we weathered their first run and got the lead back to eight,” Driscoll said. “But then we missed six shots and had five turnovers, and to their credit, they took advantage of it.”
After his 3, Jones hit a foul-line jumper to give the Colonials a 61-60 lead with 7:30 left. Pryor then completed the 13-1 run by hitting another three to make it 64-60.
North Florida (23-12) tied the score at 66-66 with 5:12 left, but a Reed layup, a Jones tip-in and a Pryor basket pushed the lead to 72-66. The Colonials were 6 for 12 from the foul line in the final 2:04, which allowed North Florida to stay close.
“I don't think we defended well at all in the first half,” Toole said. “We were able to pressure them more in the second half and were able to change the game. We had them on the heels some.”
Robert Morris, which trailed 35-29 at the half, switched from zone to man-to-man to a matchup zone in the second half.
North Florida junior Beau Beech finished with 13 points in the first half and 28 for the game. He was the reason the Ospreys took control in the first half.
Beech hit his first two 3-pointers in the second half, then the Colonials' switching defenses clamped down on him. North Florida was 1 for 9 from the 3-point line the remainder of the game after going 6 for 11 in the first half.
Robert Morris also came up with 12 steals — five by Jones — and forced 19 turnovers.
“Giving 52 points in a half is unlike us, not close to what we've been playing during the eight-game winning streak,” Driscoll said. “Robert Morris did a good job turning those turnovers into 21 points which was the difference.”