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RMU learning underdog role

Paul Schofield
| Friday, March 20, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- When the Robert Morris basketball team took the floor Thursday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for practice, Colonials coach Mike Rice didn't pull out a tape measure.

He didn't re-enact the famous scene from the movie "Hoosiers" by having guard Jimmy Langhurst get on the shoulders of his teammate, Will Royal, to measure the height of the basket, or measure the distance of the foul line.

Robert Morris is similar to Hickory High, the fictional Indiana school the movie is based on, because it will be a 17-point underdog to No. 2 seed Michigan State. Still, Rice plans to use his own tactics to prepare his team for the game.

The Colonials (24-10) battle Big Ten Conference power Michigan State (26-6) at 9:50 p.m. today in the NCAA Midwest Regional. This is the Colonials' sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Robert Morris is not only an underdog, the Colonials are an unknown.

"Before Sunday, I didn't know there was a school named Robert Morris," Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas said. "They're a good team. They shoot the 3 well, so that's something we must defend."

Michigan State guard Travis Walton was familiar with Robert Morris' location in Moon, but not much else.

"Robert Morris, that's where the 5-Star (Howard Garfinkel's) camp is held," said Walton. who is from Lima, Ohio. "That's an Ohio thing, we go to 5-Star."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he knows Robert Morris because of the camp.

"I've coached there," he said. "I know what it's all about. Mike is doing an excellent job with them."

North Dakota State, which plays Kansas at 12:30 p.m., is in the same situation as the Colonials. It is a big underdog to the defending NCAA champion, and it is trying to gain national attention for its upstart program.

"Bring it on," North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips said. "We'll take everything that comes are way. There is no way a team was well-coached as Kansas is going to overlook us. We are going to have to play very well."

Robert Morris will be trying the improbable as a No. 15 seed trying to beat a No. 2 seed. It's only happened four times: Richmond (1991), Santa Clara (1993), Coppin State (1997) and Hampton (2001).

"This is our time to shine," Robert Morris guard Jeremy Chappell said. "We're gaining a lot of attention for the school.

"We're not just looking to play well, we want to win."

Rice, a second-year coach, has compiled an impressive 50-18 record at Robert Morris. He was an assistant coach at Pitt, Marquette, Fordham and St. Joseph when they made the NCAA Tournament, so he understands his task.

"We understand what challenges we face," Rice said. "No one's thinking we have a chance. I just told the team we're going to break the game into four minutes segments. We're going to play and compete every four minutes.

"Winning a whole game against a Big Ten champion doesn't look good. Competing and winning every four minutes is what we're going to talk about."

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