Colonials pull off improbable upset over Kentucky in NIT

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Colonials pull off improbable upset over Kentucky in NIT

Nick Buzzelli, Sports Editor

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Returning to his former stomping grounds, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari spent Tuesday afternoon reminiscing about his time growing up in Moon Township.

Calipari, who fondly flashed back to his days in the community in the hours leading up to his team’s first-round NIT matchup against Robert Morris, now has new memories about his hometown, only this time, they are bitter-sweet.

“I’ve been here a long time and the point I made was if we were going to go on the road and help a program, let’s go help Robert Morris,” said Calipari, a 1978 Moon Area High School graduate. “This is a shot in the arm for them and they deserved to win the game. If we would have won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame because we didn’t deserve to win the game.”

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd of mostly screaming RMU fans, the UK Wildcats fell, 59-57, at the Charles L. Sewall Center, and as a result, are eliminated from the National Invitation Tournament.

“An absolutely incredible effort by our guys tonight,” RMU head coach Andy Toole said. “I’m proud of the way they performed, I proud of the way that we executed down the stretch, and it was an absolutely terrific win for not only our program, but the university as well.”

After starting the contest on a 10-0 run courtesy of Lucky Jones’ coast-to-coast layup, Robert Morris appeared to be in control, but a surging Wildcats squad, who tallied 10 points in the first half’s final 5:13, made a comeback, and went into the locker-room down by one.

As a result, the Colonial Crazies, RMU’s student section, cranked up the intensity in the second half, which point guard Velton Jones said his squad benefitted from.

“I think it [the crowd] was a good help for us, they gave us some energy,” said Jones, a redshirt senior. “When a crowd can come out like that for us, it’s always a good thing. I think it helped us out a lot.”

Despite holding an 11 point lead at the 8:39 mark of the second half, Robert Morris allowed the Wildcats to claw their way back into the contest. UK knotted the score at 53 with three minutes remaining.

The Colonials attempted to pull away after Mike McFadden’s dunk built a four point advantage with 1:48 left to play, but back-to-back jump shots by Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin set the stage for a dramatic finish.

With ten seconds remaining, Velton Jones fed a bounce pass to Russell Johnson under the basket, but the 6-6 forward was unable to convert the layup.

McFadden however, fought for the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback.

With the fate of the game in his hands, McFadden, a 65% free throw shooter, stepped to the charity stripe.

The native Newark, New Jersey native sank both shots, completing the improbable upset.

“I just kept my composure, I knew my team had my back,” McFadden said. “Everybody came to me saying ‘you got this, you can make it.’ I just took a deep breath and knocked them down.”

Jones, who was a redshirt freshman when the Colonials fell in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament against Villanova, believes that the win over Kentucky made up for 2010’s loss.

“We lost [against Villanova] and we were so close,” he said. “To be able to actually win this game, it takes all that away.”

Despite enjoying the momentous win over the Wildcats, Johnson said that the team needs to focus on its next opponent, the winner of the Providence vs. Charlotte matchup Wednesday night, in order to advance in the tournament.

“Enjoy this game tonight because come tomorrow, we have to prepare for whoever we’re going to play.”

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