Robert Morris gets reacquainted with buzz surrounding NCAAs
DAYTON, Ohio — When Lucky Jones, Rodney Pryor and Marcquise Reed arrived for a Tuesday news conference in advance of the NCAA South Region play-in game at UD Arena, you could sense a bit of excitement from the Robert Morris trio.
It was like they'd been here before, though the Colonials hadn't qualified for an NCAA Tournament in men's basketball since 2010.
Robert Morris (19-14) will play North Florida (23-11) on Wednesday night in a matchup of No. 16 seeds in the South bidding to move on to Charlotte, N.C., on Friday to face top-seeded Duke.
It marks the first NCAA Tournament appearance for North Florida (23-11), the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament champion.
And while the current members of Robert Morris' team never have played in an NCAA Tournament game, they will try to draw from the experiences of coach Andy Toole and assistant Velton Jones.
Toole was a Robert Morris assistant in 2010 and a player for Penn in 2002 during a regional at Mellon Arena. Jones was a freshman in 2010 on the Colonials' tournament team.
“We've talked to our team a little bit about some of our past experiences,” Toole said. “We're just trying to get them excited about being a part of it and trying to relay to them about how you can have some success in the tournament.”
This is Robert Morris' eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Toole also was on the Colonials staff in 2009 when they lost to Michigan State in Minneapolis.
He said the players finally accepting their roles, and that keyed a late-season run during which the Colonials went 6-0 over the final six games, including a run to the NEC Tournament title.
“We've just got to come out here and continue to play the way we've been playing for the last six games,” senior Lucky Jones said, “sharing the ball, just going out there looking for each other and making sure we have each other's backs.”
Added Pryor: “I believe we're going to be well prepared for the game. As a player, this is the first time. But with our coach being here multiple times, he's going to prepare us to go out on the floor and get a win.”
Pryor, Reed and Jones combined to average 44.3 points this season.
“It took us a couple games to sort each other out,” Lucky Jones said. “We emerged with our best the last six games because we had conversations on how we need each other and how much hard work it takes.”
Each player has taken a turn leading the Colonials in scoring.
North Florida coach and Bellevue native Matt Driscoll said the three players will be tough to defend.
“The one thing that's great about those three particular guys, they score at all three levels,” Driscoll said.
“They can make 3s, they can drive it on the floor and get mid-range jumpers. And they can get to the rim because of their athletic ability.”
While both teams are similar statistically, there is at least one thing that North Florida has done better.
“They average nine made 3-pointers per game,” Toole said. “They are a little different than anyone we've played. They have great size and length. “They have a lot of guys who are versatile inside-outside guys. They have a number of guys who make 3s, some who make it at a really high rate. I don't think we've seen a team like this that we've played.”
North Florida, with four starters averaging double figures, is led by sophomore guard Dallas Moore's 15.9 ppg.