Robert Morris ready to take on 'Goliath' again

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 16, 2013 

  • Robert Morris at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Sunday | TV: ESPN2

    Records: Robert Morris 2-1; UK 2-1 | Series: Tied 1-1

    Last meeting: Robert Morris won 59-57 in 2013 NIT

    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1, WLAP-AM 630

    John Clay's live blog: Follow at johnclay.bloginky.com

    Twitter updates: @JerryTipton and @johnclayiv

Business as usual for Andrew Toole as he walked along the sideline of a court during a July recruiting camp in Florida. A shout — Hey! — broke up the routine and got his attention.

Toole turned to his right and made eye contact. "The person says, 'Hey, are you the coach at Robert Morris?'" he recalled.

Toole said he was.

"He says, 'Are you the head coach of Robert Morris?'"

Toole nodded.

"He says, 'I'll see you Nov. 17.'"

Nov. 17? Huh?

"I said, 'What are you talking about?'" Toole recalled.

"He goes, 'Rupp Arena. I'll be at Rupp Arena.'

"And it was like a 12-year-old kid," Toole said. "I'm, like, 'Oh my God. I don't even know if I want to show up on the 17th.'"

Toole laughed as he told the story. By the way, he was in Lexington. He and the Robert Morris team had completed a bus ride from Ypsilanti, Mich., where they'd lost to Eastern Michigan on Thursday.

So Robert Morris will be in Rupp Arena Sunday night to play Kentucky in what the Colonials' Director of Athletics, Craig Coleman, calls "David and Goliath, Part II."

Part I did not go well for Goliath/Kentucky. Robert Morris' 59-57 victory on March 19 was not a stone flung by a slingshot that luckily struck Goliath in the forehead. The Colonials led much of the game, and the margin grew to 13 points in the second half. UK's biggest lead? One point.

As if playing in the NIT was not embarrassing enough, Kentucky's first-round loss at Robert Morris left a 12-year-old still thirsting for revenge three months later.

The children of Kentucky-based sportswriter Jamie Vaught resisted the idea of even posing for a picture with Toole.

The chance came this summer when Vaught interviewed the Robert Morris coach while in Pittsburgh to do a story on the Pirates. Vaught asked his son and daughter to pose with Toole.

"They refused to get in the picture with me," Toole said. "He had to, like, cajole them into standing next to me. And the looks on their faces were like scowls."

Toole, 33, finds these reactions "entertaining." Because, he said, "I don't take myself extremely seriously."

A question springs to mind: Why play? Why doesn't Robert Morris rest on its laurels as the little shepherd boy of a program that slew mighty Kentucky?

"Nah," Toole said. "Why rest on your laurels? I think you've got to be constantly challenging yourself."

Win or surely lose, Robert Morris benefits from the pseudo rematch. Pseudo because Kentucky has practically a new team while Robert Morris is mixing six newcomers with four veterans.

Coleman seemed to relish the retelling of what the NIT game did for his school's name recognition.

"We were the No. 1 tweet expression for several hours on planet Earth," the Robert Morris A.D. said. "I don't know how you quantify that."

Robert Morris officials opened the doors to the Charles L. Sewall Center an hour earlier than normal. The bleachers were about half full an hour and 45 minutes prior to the scheduled tipoff.

"It's not every day ESPN SportsCenter opens the show with a live shot from our arena," Coleman said. "But they did one night. From our standpoint, it was unbelievable."

Coleman noted that Robert Morris enrolled a record number of freshmen this school year. That came during a time when "the demographics are against us," he said. The population in Pennsylvania and the Northeast is declining as are the number of high school graduates.

For Robert Morris, the rematch offers another healthy dose of recognition. "It was a no-brainer," Coleman said.

UK Coach John Calipari, whose grandmother once worked in a cafeteria on the Robert Morris campus, suggested that beating Kentucky in March should embolden the Colonials' team.

"'We beat this team, let's go,'" he proposed as the Robert Morris players' attitude. "They're not afraid."

Toole did not protest that assessment.

"I would be surprised if they were (afraid), put it that way," he said. "One of the things we discuss a lot of time is playing the same way, regardless of the opponent."

Robert Morris (2-1) wants to play its game: defend aggressively and show player/ball movement on offense.

Robert Morris is no stranger to facing an opponent seeking revenge. The Colonials have averaged 23 victories over the last five seasons and enjoyed eight straight seasons with winning records.

So Robert Morris knows about vengeful opponents. "Not from people like Kentucky, no," Toole said.


Robert Morris at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Sunday | TV: ESPN2

Records: Robert Morris 2-1; UK 2-1 | Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: Robert Morris won 59-57 in 2013 NIT

Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1, WLAP-AM 630

John Clay's live blog: Follow at johnclay.bloginky.com

Twitter updates: @JerryTipton and @johnclayiv

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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