DAYTON, Ohio -- The road to the second round might have been a bit more difficult than the Robert Morris Colonials might have wanted, but after falling behind the North Florida Ospreys, they rallied for an 81-77 win on Wednesday night in the First Four at UD Arena.
Challenge accepted: There's no denying what's next for Robert Morris on Friday: the Duke Blue Devils. But don't expect the Colonials to blink after the gut-check victory in the First Four. The Colonials have already stared down elimination after facing a double-digit deficit in the second half against North Florida. While trying to play catch-up against a high-powered program such as Duke isn't even close to the same thing, they can take some measure of confidence for claiming a victory on a big stage against long odds. By the end of the game, their fans were even chanting, "We want Duke."
Sticking around: After waiting his entire career for a shot in the NCAA tournament, Lucky Jones did everything he could to extend his stay. With the Colonials on the ropes midway through the second half, Jones, one of only two seniors on the team, delivered a gutsy 3-pointer on one end, then took a charge at the other on the ensuing possession and followed that up with a go-ahead jumper that erased what had been a 13-point lead for the Ospreys. By the time the victory was sealed, Jones finished with 21 points and seven rebounds to lead his team to the second round.
Pressure pays: Not every error was forced by an aggressive Robert Morris defense, and occasionally North Florida seemed to go out of its way to turn the ball over. But the Colonials made life plenty miserable on offense for the Osprey, who despite turning in another productive shooting outing finished with 19 turnovers to negate their success from 3-point range. No possession was more indicative of the effort the Colonials delivered on defense than a gritty, energetic stop that ended with a shot-clock violation and North Florida hardly getting anything close to a clear look at the hoop.
Finding a way: There wasn't much happening for the Colonials from beyond the arc, but they kept plugging away on the inside and on the glass to keep pace with some hot shooting by the Ospreys. Robert Morris controlled the paint, scoring 34 points on the interior thanks in part to its 11 offensive rebounds, which more than made up for its inconsistency from 3-point range. Making just 4 of 16 attempts from 3-point range isn't going to fly against the Blue Devils, but Robert Morris proved it is more than willing to find other ways to light up the scoreboard.
Second-half star: The opening 20 minutes were plenty forgettable for Marcquise Reed, but the Robert Morris guard made memories down the stretch to help his team climb back into the game. He scored seven consecutive points midway through the second half to chip away at North Florida's lead, and his acrobatic, left-handed layup while getting fouled in the closing minutes turned the tide and set up the date with Duke.